Over a decade ago, a 2003 article appearing in WebMD, entitled, Concussions May Boost Depression Risk stated, “the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Sports Medicine Concussion Program reported that concussions among high school football players and other athletes appear to have a cumulative effect, and with each head blow, their brains are more vulnerable to damage from even mild future hits. That study showed athletes were up to nine times more likely to lose consciousness or have amnesia after three concussions compared with those suffering an even harder concussion-causing first injury.”
As further stated in the 2003 WebMD article, the lead researcher had appropriately cautioned that “it's too early to suggest that depression can result from repeated concussions based on survey results.” Since that time, concussions and their consequent mental health risks have been thankfully receiving more and more media attention. I will add that in my child and adolescent psychology practice over the last ten years, I have seen a considerable increase in teens with depression that is consequent to reported concussions.
Presently, more than ten years later, a January 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that “teens with a history of concussions are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression as teens who have never had a concussion.”The lead study author Sara Chrisman, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital, stated "What this study suggests is that teens who have had a concussion should be screened for depression."
Most prior research on these psychological effects of concussion has focused on adults. However, many teens experience concussions through sports injuries or accidents, and less is known about long-term complications in adolescents. The 2014 study mentioned above as described on Psych Central:"Used data from the 2007-2008 National Survey of Children's Health and included health information from over 36,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17. 2.7 percent of the sample had had a concussion and 3.4 percent had a current depression diagnosis. The researchers stated that the main weakness of their study was that it relied on the parents' reports of diagnosis of a concussion. This may have led to an underreporting of concussions in mild cases where symptoms were not easy for the parent to identify."
As I always caution in interpetting research, it is important to see further confirmation of findings. At the same time, as long as contact sports and skateboards abound in the mainstream, so will concussions and their highly likely resulting toll on emotional health. If your teen has had a concussion, it is imperative that he or she consults with a healthcare professional.
Once a medical evaluation is completed, the following are some suggestions to help your teen adjust and cope:
Obtain Academic Accommodations
Concussions can impact sleep, energy level, motivation, short term memory skills, reasoning skills, and even the ability to read which will impact a child's self esteem and may cause anxiety and depression. If need be, find an advocate such as a guidance counselor, or special education teacher and pursue a reduced school work load, and more time allowed for completion of school work. Seek whatever other helpful academic supports that are available.
Explore New Interests
There is a huge sense of loss for kids who have to stay away from videogames, TV, reading, or other activities. Ask your healthcare professional what your child or teen can explore for developing new interests. Ideally, discovering some fun and exciting things to do help that can also encourage crtical thinking would be very helpful to your child's or teen's mental health. Approved of crafts and other creative arts related activities may be very rewarding.
Go for Gratitude
There are many reasons why gratitude is a trait we want to encourage in our children, including the fact that grateful children are more enjoyable to raise. Research suggests that helping teens learn to count their blessings can actually play an important role in positive mental health. As gratitude increases, so do life satisfaction, happiness, positive attitudes, hope and even academic performance. Chidren who say they feel grateful for a variety of things in their lives, also show stronger critical life skills such as cooperation, a sense of purpose, creativity and persistence.
For teens recovering from concusssions, depression is a very real, problematic side effect. Not only can concussions directly influence the onset of depression, but the resulting drastic lifetyle changes can as well. I have worked with several teens who felt depressed because of the consequent recommended limited activity following a head injury. For many active teens, having to slow down and be cut off from their active routines can feel isolating and depressing. Coupled with that loss is the added stress of transitioning back to school and catching up with academic demands while dealing with social pressures. Outside counseling with a qualified mental health professional can help your teen gain support and coping skills to meet these demands and pressures.
Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty-two years’ experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared twice on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books 2009) and Why Can’t You Read My Mind? (Perseus Books 2003).
Health Behavior News Service
Health Day Health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/08/05/grateful-teens-may-have-less-risk-for-depression-other-problems
Psych Central http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/01/19/teen-concussions-raise-risk-for-depression/64704.html
Yahoo Health http://voices.yahoo.com/helping-teen-cope-depression-after-concussion-12512263.html
Chrisman SP and Richardson LP. Prevalence of diagnosed depression in adolescents with history of concussion. Journal of Adolescent Health, January 2014