Teens with a history of concussion — the most common type of traumatic brain injury — are more than three times as likely to suffer from depression versus teens who have never had one, according to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Many teens experience concussions through sports injuries or accidents; however, most research on the psychological effects of concussions has focused on adults, and less is known about the long-term complications in young people.
“In our research, we’ve found that about 10 percent of the kids had a full depressive disorder or subclinical depressive disorder 6 months after a concussion,” said Jeffrey Max, M.D., a psychiatrist who specializes in psychiatric outcomes of traumatic brain injury in children and adolescents at the University of California, San Diego.
Furthermore, children who have a history of concussion are more likely to develop attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have difficulty controlling their moods, especially anger, rather than experience depression, said Max.
The study pulled information from the 2007-2008 National Survey of Children’s Health and included the health data of more than 36,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17. Overall, 2.7 percent of those in the sample had experienced a concussion and 3.4 percent had a current depression diagnosis.
Teens who were 15 years or older, lived in poverty or who had a parent with a mental disorder were more likely to be depressed than other teens, said lead study author Sara Chrisman, M.D., “but what was surprising was when we took those factors into consideration, it didn’t take away from the association between depression and a history of concussion.”
She also noted that it’s still unclear why there are higher rates of depression in teens with a history of concussion. It could be the brain injury itself, diagnostic bias due to repeated medical visits for concussion, doctors mistaking symptoms of a concussion for depression, or from the social isolation that patients may experience while recovering.
Max has observed, however, that the brain injury itself is often the primary cause of depression within the first few months after the concussion.
“In the clinic, we’ve certainly seen cases where within hours [of sustaining a concussion], a kid who’s never had depression before is suddenly depressed and suicidal,” said Max.
“One of our studies found that the brain images in children with traumatic brain injury and depression were actually quite similar to those seen in adults who develop depression as a result of traumatic brain injury.”
Source: Journal of Adolescent Health