Concussions and Suicide: Is There a Connection?

Concussion patients could face a three-fold increase in likelihood of suicide, Canadian study finds


A concussion could raise an adult's likelihood of committing suicide by 300 percent, even without a history of psychiatric issues.

A recent Canadian study, which focused on those not in sports or in the military, found that among the general public concussions can be dangerous in regard to mental health.

Researchers combed through data of 230,000 Canadians who experienced concussions from 1992 to 2012. According to the study authors, 667 people committed suicide within 9 years after a concussion. This is equivalent to 31 suicides for every 100,000 people. The average rate in Canada is nine suicides for every 100,000 people.

The numbers were even greater for those who experienced concussions during a weekend. Those patients committed suicide at almost four times the rate, or 38 suicides for 100,000 people.

This could be because weekday concussions mostly occur during work, where they are taken more seriously, Reuters reports.

“For years there have been examples of serious head injuries leading to potential cases of suicide in military veterans and professional athletes,” senior author Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier, a professor in the school of medicine at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada, told Reuters Health. “I always worried that even mild concussions acquired in normal community settings might also be a risk, and might cause lasting damage."

A concussion occurs when the brain is altered after a head injury, such as after a violent event or accident. Symptoms of a concussion can be short or long-term, and they include nausea, dizziness, exhaustion and, in the most dangerous cases, seizures, long-term cognitive decline and trouble walking, according to the Mayo Clinic.

However, "the vast majority of people in this study did not die from suicide," Dr. Redelmeier told Reuters.

There are other factors that could have lead to these results, such as inadequate recovery time, other psychiatric conditions or the lack of proper health care. The study authors were also unable to measure the severity and exact timing of the concussions.

However, Dr. Redelmeier and team do recommend a greater awareness among medical professionals of the potential of concussions to cause long-lasting damage and patients informing doctors and psychiatrists about previous concussions, no matter how far in the past they occurred.

“If you had a concussion 15 years ago maybe you also want to mention it to your physician," Dr. Redelmeier told Reuters.

Dr. Redelmeier also recommends taking adequate time to recover and rest after a concussion. This means not just taking a break from sports or other extraneous physical activity, but also limiting activities that require thinking and mental concentration such as playing video games and reading, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Once you start feeling better, don’t try to come back with a vengeance," he said.

This study was published February 8 in CMAJ.

The Canada Research Chair in Medical Decision Sciences, Major Frederick Banting Chair in Military Trauma Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Canadian Forces Surgeon General’s Health Research Program and BrightFocus Foundation funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were declared.