According to a new study, those who suffer from multiple traumatic brain injuries – even mild concussions – are at a higher lifetime risk for suicide. The study is the latest indication that doctors are only now beginning to understand the ways in which traumatic brain injuries can impact a person’s long term health.
University of Utah study
The study, published recently in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, was conducted at the University of Utah by psychology professor Craig Bryan, who is also an associate director at the National Center for Veterans Studies. Bryan’s research focused on veterans from the war in Iraq who suffered a TBI during deployment. He discovered that those who had suffered more than one TBI in their lifetime were far more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who had suffered only one TBI or those who had never suffered a TBI.
Surprisingly, many of those in Bryan’s study reported that they had suffered their first TBI not in combat, but rather while participating in athletic events such as football long before they joined the military. In fact, some soldiers reported suffering up to six TBIs before their service began. About 20 percent of soldiers polled said that they had suffered a TBI during basic training.
According to Bryan, earlier brain injuries may render a person more vulnerable to serious injury later on, perhaps even for the rest of their lives. The result is that those who have suffered multiple TBIs are more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, depression and, indeed, thoughts of suicide.
Interestingly, most of the soldiers in Bryan’s study had not suffered severe brain injuries, but only mild concussions. It is unclear why, but these injuries appear to be particularly pernicious.
Implications for civilians
Unfortunately, partially because of the prevalence of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, too many veterans – up to 400,000, by one estimate – have returned home with traumatic brain injuries. This has, however, provided doctors a valuable opportunity to study TBIs and to develop new treatment strategies. This is important not only for veterans, but also for the millions of Americans who suffer traumatic brain injuries each year. Though many people think that concussions only happen in combat or on the athletic field, the most common causes of these injuries in the U.S. are car accidents and slip-and-fall accidents. They can happen to anyone and, as Bryan’s research shows, even one or two injuries may have life-long consequences.