As a doctor, a Trojan, and someone the same age who was lucky to live in San Diego when Junior Seau was a charger, I was deeply saddened by the latest NFL player to take his life. What is provocative about Junior Seau is that he, along with other NFL players who have recently committed suicide, shot himself in the chest presumably to save his brain for autopsy. As many of you know, most self inflicted gun shot wounds are to the head yet some of the NFL players have shot themselves in the chest. One former NFL player Dave Duerson went as far as leaving a note asking that his brain be studied.
So, are these suicides from football related post-concussion depression? We know that these players have early neurodegenerative changes from multiple head injuries but do they also have depression and suicidal thoughts?
It is important to know what persistent post-concussion syndrome is. It is believed to be due to the biological effects of the injury, psychological factors, or a combination of both. This is a challenging and potentially contentious diagnosis, of course, because post-concussion-like symptoms are common in healthy subjects,
Does traumatic brain injury from football lead to head post-concussion syndrome which leads to depression? Depression is the best example of a psychiatric condition that can seriously complicate our understanding of recovery following mild head injury. Many of the specific symptoms of depression are similar to the post-concussion syndrome. Look how they are similar: diminished ability to think or concentrate, indecisiveness, fatigue or loss of energy, and sleep problems. It is extremely difficult to determine if a person's self-reported symptoms are due to depression, a persistent post-concussion syndrome, or both because many of the symptoms are identical in these conditions.
According to the NFL Players Association, the average life expectancy for an NFL football player is under 60 years. Traumatic football injuries, such as concussions, are blamed for this. This problem is real, and isn't going to go away on its own and now I wonder if football related depression/post-concussion syndrome is to blame for these suicides.
I am a football fan like many of you but am starting to feel that the curse of the NFL and college football is men dying young for reasons we could have, and should have, prevented.
- Dr O.
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