Depressive Symptoms Come On Quick For Concussed Athletes
The long-term effects of brain injuries related to football or other sports are being deeply investigated by researchers across the country, but shockingly little research is being conducted on the issues that arise in the immediate aftermath of brain injuries. However, a new study from researchers at Penn State recently delivered a stark reminder of the troubling the immediate symptoms of brain injuries can be.
The new study, published in the Journal of Athletic Training, shows that college athletes who have recently experienced a brain injury are highly likely to experience depressive thoughts almost immediately following an injury.
For the study, the researchers compared 84 college athletes recently diagnosed with concussions to a control group of athletically active undergraduates with no recent history of concussion. Both groups went through screening using the Beck Depression Inventory-Fast Screen twice. The first test served as a baseline, while the second survey served to assess depressive symptoms following a concussion, or for the control group, later in the year. .
The differences between the groups was stark. According to the findings, approximately 20 percent of concussed athletes showed significant symptoms of depression in the time immediately following their concussion, compared to only 5 percent of the control group who started to show symptoms in that time.
Non-white athletes, in particular, struggled with post-concussion depression, the researchers said.
“Considering that these athletes will likely have multiple concussions in their careers and that a large percentage already displayed clinically significant depression after 1 isolated concussion, our results are concerning,” the authors wrote in the report.
The findings are especially troubling, as the risk of experiencing future depressive episodes greatly increase once someone has experienced an initial episode. Past research has found that if an individual experiences just one depressive episode in their life, there is a 50 percent chance of future episodes. That risk rises to 80 percent following a second episode.
Peter Arnett, a professor of psychology at Penn State University and one of the study’s authors, told The Huffington Post he hoped the research would lend credence to anecdotal evidence found in the media that concussions can cause depressive thoughts. But even he could not predict the huge differences found between the groups.
“I must say, I was surprised to see [the rise in depressive symptoms] was so dramatic, especially relative to the control group,” he said.
The findings also showed the symptoms appeared very quickly. Over 70 percent of the concussed athletes were tested within 5 days of being diagnosed with a concussion.
“We’re finding this among young, healthy athletes, and they’re still showing signs of depression in the first week,” Arnett said.
According to the findings, 20 percent of concussed athletes showed increased signs of depression, 10 percent showed decreased signs and 70 percent showed no real change. On the other hand, among the control group only 5 percent showed signs of an increase, 7 percent showed signs of a decrease and 88 percent showed no real change.
The researchers concede the depressive symptoms could be influenced by outside factors, such as the heightened pressures college athletes experience throughout the year, but the extreme difference suggests some correlation between concussion and subsequent depressive thoughts.