The unusual number of sports players who experienced TBI (traumatic brain injury) and later committed suicide, and the number of military vets who experienced TBI while in combat and later committed suicide may not be a coincidence, say researchers.
"Research on traumatic brain injury is of utmost concern right now for veteran disability advocates," commented veterans disability lawyer James Fausone.
A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has proposed a link between multiple concussions or traumatic brain injuries and suicidal actions later. In addition, the researchers found that a significant number of the men who experienced military-related TBI had a sports-playing history, which indicates that they may have experienced TBI on the playing field years earlier, as well.
The study, conducted by an Air Force psychologist, looked at 161 individuals sent to his clinic for suspected concussions. Those interviewed were asked about any history of head trauma, any battles with depression, PTSD or struggling with suicidal thoughts. The study concluded that many of the head injuries referenced by the study participants, in some cases as many as 6 injuries by one individual, were sustained prior to military service. Approximately 20 percent of the study participants reported that they experience concussion during their basic training, and some reports that they had sustained as many as 15 different head injuries during their tour of duty.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are both high-risk factors for suicide, and combat experience typically would only increase their severity, said the researchers. Individuals who already experience one or both of these conditions and then join the service would explain why there are such high levels of suicide in the Armed Forces.
The researchers suggest that head trauma may set up a pre-existing disposition towards suicidal idealization or action which is then exacerbated by additional head trauma during combat. Exposure to an IED (improvised explosive device) buffets the brain within the skull by concussive shock waves, which can cause bleeding in the brain at numerous, hard-to-detect sites, causing damage. Subtle traumatic brain injury can be impossible to detect by an average physical; it is possible that many military personnel entered the service well enough to serve, and then subsequent damage further made them more susceptible to suicidal thoughts than someone who had not sustained sports-related concussions or other head injuries.