NFL Players At Greater Risk Of Depression Due To Concussions
January 17, 2013

NFL Players At Greater Risk Of Depression Due To Concussions

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After several mental health related tragedies involving active and retired professional athletes, there has been a massive public outcry for all sports to take measures to prevent their players from incurring brain-jarring concussions.

According to two new studies that were released today by the American Academy of Neurology, the uproar over head trauma may be well justified as the studies´ findings show that National Football League (NFL) players may be at a greater risk of depression as they age due to concussions and the long-term damage they cause.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1.6 to 3.8 million sports concussions occur each year,” said study author Nyaz Didehbani, of the University of Texas at Dallas. “While it is known that sports concussions can cause immediate disturbances in mood and thinking, few studies have investigated the long-term effects that may emerge later in life, especially those related to depression.”

"Our study shows that athletes who have sustained concussions in early adulthood may be at a higher risk for developing depression as they age compared to the general population,” he added.

The first study involved 34 retired NFL players with a history of concussion and 29 people from general population who were the same age and had no concussion history. Using the Beck Depression Inventory, a questionnaire designed for ages 13 and up, both groups of participants were tested for psychological signs of depression. The researchers also tested their thinking skills, mood, and looked for physical symptoms of depression.

The analysis of these test results found that those athletes who exhibited greater physical symptoms also the scored significantly higher on the depression inventory. With the retired athletes reporting an average of four concussions, the findings reinforce the association between depression and head trauma.

The second study included 26 retired NFL players, including five with depression and 21 without. Using diffusion tensor MRI scans, the neurologists were able to measure damage in the athletes´ white matter, the parts of the brain that carry signals among processing centers, or grey matter. Damage to white matter has been coupled with depression and occurs frequently during traumatic brain injury.

After examining white matter damage, the researchers were able to predict which former NFLers had depression with almost 100 percent accuracy. They were also able to correlate the severity of the depression with the degree of white matter damage in certain brain regions.

“Aside from providing important insights into the nature of depression as it relates to brain damage in retired NFL athletes who have been exposed to concussive and repetitive head injuries, this study also may help us to understand the similar behavioral symptoms seen in other sports-related head injuries and in combat-related blast injuries seen in armed service members,” co-author Dr. Kyle Womack, a neurologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in a statement.

Didehbani added that medical professionals should be aware of the long-term consequences of head trauma, whether they occur on the playing field or elsewhere.

“It is important when a concussive experience occurs that medical professionals appropriately include depression screening in their follow-up assessment,” he said. “Depression is a treatable condition if the proper and necessary steps are taken."