April 15, 2014 5:00 pm
Updated: April 16, 2014 6:45 pm

Teens who have concussion face higher risk of self-harm, bullying


Watch video above: Study finds teens who have had a concussion have higher rates of suicide attempts. Carey Marsden reports. 

TORONTO – New Canadian research is shedding light on overlooked aspects of living with a concussion: on top of brain injuries, teens are also at a greater risk of attempting suicide, bullying or trying drugs.

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They’re also more likely to rely on prescribed medication for anxiety or depression, according to a St. Michael’s Hospital study.

Teenage years are a turbulent time – suffering from a traumatic brain injury can worsen the situation, according to lead investigator Dr. Gabriela Ilie.

“These kids are falling through the cracks,” Ilie said. “These results show that preventable brain injuries and mental health and behavioural problems among teens continue to remain a blind spot in our culture,” she said.

READ MORE: One in five high school students suffered brain injury, study suggests

The study is based on data from one of the longest ongoing school surveys in the world – the Ontario Student Drug use and Health Survey executed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

About 9,000 students from Grades 7 to 12 were included. From the findings, Ilie found that youth who had suffered a concussion double their odds of being bullied at school – some even take up the bullying.

They triple their odds of attempting suicide. They’re also at an increased risk of damaging property, breaking and entering, taking a car without permission or dealing drugs.

READ MORE: Pull athletes showing signs of concussion, updated guidelines warn

For Ilie, her results provide a warning to doctors, teachers, parents and coaches: teens dealing with the fallout of a concussion are a vulnerable group and need to be looked after.

Their injuries also happen while playing sports and are largely preventable had they been wearing helmets, Ilie said.

This is the second installment to her research: last year, Ilie warned that the number of teens who have suffered from traumatic brain injury is higher than what most Canadians think.

After scouring the same 2011 Ontario student survey data, she pegged brain injury as an incident that affected about 20 per cent of the province’s high school students. (2011 is the first year that questions about traumatic brain injury were included in the survey.) The students had to have faced a brain injury so bad they were unconscious for five minutes or had to stay in hospital overnight to recover.

READ MORE: Ice hockey makes up nearly half of all head injuries in young Canadian athletes

It was boys, students with lower grades and those who drank or smoked marijuana within the past 12 months that reported the most severe head injuries.

Adolescent brains are still developing and evidence suggests that those who have concussions are put at greater risk of future concussions, lasting cognitive issues, substance abuse and mental health issues, her research warned.

Ilie’s findings were published Tuesday night in the journal PLoS One.

Read the full study here.


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