Adults over forty who reported a history of repetitive head trauma through contact sports, physical abuse, or military service had increased symptoms of depression and difficulty with cognitive functioning, as compared to those without such a history, according to a study published online in the journal, Neurology.
Scientists from the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Centers, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and San Francisco VA Healthcare System teamed up to analyze the records of 13,323 individuals age 40 and older who participated in the internet-based Brain Health Registry.
“The findings underscore that repetitive hits to the head, such as those from contact sport participation or physical abuse, might be associated with later-life symptoms of depression. It should be made clear that this association is likely to be dependent on the dose or duration of repetitive head impacts and this information was not available for this study,” said Michael Alosco, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Boston University and co-director of BU’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center Clinical Core.
Scientists have long believed that a single traumatic brain injury (TBI) earlier in life may contribute to problems with memory, thinking, and depression later in life. In other studies, however, researchers didn’t examine the possible role of repetitive head impacts in these later-in-life problems.
The BU-UCSF-VA study looked at “the hypothesis that repetitive head impacts (RHI), like those from contact sport play, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have long-term neuropsychiatric and cognitive consequences,” and concluded that both “RHI and TBI independently contributed to mid- to worse mid- to later-life neuropsychiatric and cognitive functioning.” When examined separately, a history of repetitive head impacts had the strongest effect on depressive symptoms, the researchers reported.
There has been supportive evidence to validate that conclusion. In the worst of cases, repetitive head injuries seem to have led to suicide. Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau died by suicide in 2012. A study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) subsequently found that Seau’s brain showed abnormalities consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease associated with repetitive head injuries. Seau’s death also recalled the 2011 suicide of former NFL player Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest and left a suicide note requesting that his brain be studied for brain trauma.
The only way to accurately diagnose many brain diseases, including CTE, is studying the brain after death. In 2008, the Concussion Legacy Foundation partnered with Boston University and the US Department of Veterans Affairs to found the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, led by Dr. Ann McKee. In yet another prominent NFL suicide case, Dr. McKee concluded that Aaron Hernandez’s brain showed signs of brain injury never seen before in someone under 40.
In 2017, a Boston University study suggested a link between youth football and later-Life emotional, behavioral, and cognitive impairments. Researchers from BU’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center studied 214 former American football players, including 43 who played only through high school and 103 who played only through college. The average age of the former players at the time of the study was 51.
“The study showed that participation in youth football before age 12 increased the risk of problems with behavioral regulation, apathy, and executive functioning by two-fold and increased the risk of clinically elevated depression scores by three-fold. The increased risk was independent of the total number of years the participants played football, the number of concussions they reported, or whether they played through high school, college, or professionally.”
Major depression is a serious mental health issue, often with severe consequences for the affected individuals and their loved ones. “Although the majority of people who have depression do not die by suicide, having major depression does increase suicide risk compared to people without depression,” warns the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Many people who suffer from the effects of trauma, depression, and anxiety have not been diagnosed. They often attempt to self-medicate their symptoms with drugs and alcohol, frequently causing additional challenges. Those who are self-medicating can develop a substance use disorder (SUD), driven by these underlying conditions, and may require comprehensive addiction treatment.
At Recovery Ways, the focus is on treating all mental health conditions, including the substance use disorder. Recovery Ways is dually licensed to treat mental health issues and addiction. The highly qualified treatment team at Recovery Ways includes two psychiatrists, an affiliated family doctor, and therapists with master’s degrees.
Every patient receives evidence-based treatment that addresses both substance use and co-occurring mental health concerns. A licensed member of our treatment team helps each patient develop an individualized plan tailored to address their specific needs. The 360-degree holistic approach to rehabilitation allows patients to heal their mind, body, and spirit and start their life-long journey of recovery.