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A New Link Between Traumatic Brain Injury and Suicide


A New Link Between Traumatic Brain Injury and Suicide

A new study finds for the first time that military members with multiple traumatic brain injuries are more likely to be at risk for suicide, not only in the short term, but throughout their lifetime.
The study found that often they sustained some of those head injuries earlier in life - usually while playing sports like football - the impact of which are then compounded by injuries sustained in combat.
The study was conducted by Craig Bryan, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah and associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies.
Bryan studied active-duty soldiers in Iraq in 2009, gathering data about service members' suicidal thoughts after they returned to base with traumatic brain injuries, one of the more common injuries in these recent wars. It's being published in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry today.
He found that one in five patients - nearly 22 percent - who experienced more than one TBI in their lifetime reported thoughts or preoccupation with suicide, compared to 6 percent of patients with only one TBI. Those with no history of TBI reported no suicidal thoughts.
The Sports Connection
The study found that those with multiple TBIs often first got hurt before they joined up.
"A lot of these guys are coming in with histories of head injuries, and a lot of times they're sports related," he said. "They played sports in high school, got knocked out a couple of times, and (later) joined the military."
Some of these military members reported having had as many as six head injuries before they entered the service, he said. And he said the data also shows an estimated 20 percent of service members sustained concussions during basic training.
The implication, Bryan said, is that these earlier injuries can create a "preexisting vulnerability that gets activated" by another head injury sustained in combat. Bryan screened these military members when they came back from missions having sustained some kind of head trauma, usually in an IED attack. Some service members sustained as many as 15 traumatic brain injuries while deployed, according to his research.
Those with multiple TBIs were also at higher risk for PTSD and depression, the study found.

References and further information

The original article was produced by The PBS Frontline website.

To view the rest of this article, visit the PBS Frontline website.


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