Sports concussions linked to mental health issues in new study
Athletes who suffered concussions more prone to depression and anxiety, study finds
The new study comes just two weeks after Irish forward Kevin Doyle retired on medical advice following a series of concussions. Photograph: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/GettyImages
Athletes who suffer concussions during their sports careers are more likely to experience common mental disorders (CMD) such as anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance later in life, according to new research.
Published in the scientific journal Physician and Sportsmedicine, the study surveyed 576 former top-flight footballers, ice hockey and rugby players from seven European countries and South Africa. All were men under the age of 50.
Former athletes who had four or five concussions during their careers were 1½ times more likely to report CMD symptoms than those who had no concussions, while those who suffered six or more concussions were between two and five times more likely to experience problems.
Nearly one in four of those surveyed never had a concussion during their careers, but more than one in 10 suffered six or more and the mean number of concussions was three per player.
This means that during the first decade after retirement, players are 7-11 per cent more likely to report CMD symptoms for each additional concussion.
The study’s lead author was French former professional footballer Dr Vincent Gouttebarge, who is now the chief medical officer for world footballers’ union FIFPro.
In a FIFPro statement, Dr Gouttebarge said: “This is an important piece of research that suggests concussion might be a contributor to the mental health problems suffered by many players.
“We as football stakeholders – federations, clubs and player unions – need to do be alert to the mental health of players, both during and after their careers.
“That means educating players about the dangers of what can be an intense and stressful career and supporting them when they need assistance.”
Another of the study’s authors is Dr Willie Stewart from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. One of the leading concussion experts in the UK, Stewart has been closely involved in rugby union’s attempts to diagnose and manage concussions better.
This is something all of the study’s authors advocate for every sport, as well as calling for more support for ex-athletes struggling with mental health issues.
This study’s publication comes less than two weeks after former Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle retired from the game on medical advice following a series of concussions.
Possible links between concussions and mental health issues are now being explored across the globe and the announcement of new UK study funded by the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association is expected in the coming weeks.