A football player being tackled, a solider impacted by an explosive device, a person in a car accident, or even a child falling from playground equipment- as humans, our brains are susceptible to injury- particularly concussions. But because brain injuries are complicated and you don’t normally see outward signs of a concussion, like bleeding or a bruise, they often go untreated- but that’s a risky mistake. In recent studies a link has been drawn between concussions and depression- leaving the person suffering long after the initial trauma occurred.
Concussions are defined as a traumatic brain injury that changes the way one’s brain functions, normally caused by a blow to the head (“Concussion,” n.d.). Research has shown that after trauma has happened, neuron connections are disturbed and brain inflammation may occur- causing immunity cells in the brain to go into high alert mode. In turn, this causes the brain’s first line of defense- something called microglia cells, not to function properly, creating an increase in depression like symptoms (Caldwell, 2013). So, how exactly do these brain changes affect people?
In one particular study, teenagers who have suffered from a concussion were found to be three times as likely to experience depression than teenagers who have never had a concussion (Kahn, 2014). Sometimes factors like social support and change in lifestyle place further emphasis of the symptoms of depression. For example if an athlete who is extremely passionate about the sport they play suffers from a concussion, and is forced to take a break in order to heal- they might exhibit signs of depression due to a sudden withdrawal of an activity they enjoy.
However, sometimes people don’t show symptoms of concussion-induced depression until years later. This could be because as the brain ages, inflammation occurs naturally, causing problems with the previous inflammation that was due to injury along with other factors of brain development and chemistry (Caldwell, 2013).
So what can be done to decrease the impact that concussions have on the biology of the brain and the mental state that follows? Experts recommend rest, allowing your brain time to heal, decreasing activities requiring mental focus like schoolwork or television. For athletes and military members- return to the playing field or combat situations should be a slow process. If symptoms of depression arise, professional help should be sought as soon as possible, allowing for a quicker recovery and a decrease in the likelihood of suicide (“Treatment and Drugs,” 2014).
As for the awareness of depression linked to head injuries, sports leagues, such as the NFL, have contributed to concussion research and steps have been taken to ensure player safety and minimize head injury. With an increase in caution and education about concussions, hopefully a decrease in depression among those who experienced head trauma will occur.
Caldwell, E. (2013, December 9). How a concussion can lead to depression years later. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/tbidepress.htm
Concussion. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Association of Neurological Surgeons website: http://www.aans.org/patient%20information/conditions%20and%20treatments/concussion.aspx
Khan, K. (2014, January 9). Teen concussions increase risk of depression. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.cfah.org/hbns/2014/teen-concussions-increase-risk-for-depression
Treatments and drugs. (2014, April 2). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/basics/treatment/con-20019272