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Concussion increases risk of mental health issues in children



Among children and adolescents aged 5-18 years, concussion was associated with a higher risk of mental health problems, compared with age- and sex-matched children and adolescents with an orthopedic injury, according to a cohort study published in JAMA Network Open.

While concussions are one of the most common head injuries in the pediatric population, the extent to which they increase the risk of new onset psychiatric disorders or subsequent psychopathology is unclear, lead author Andrée-Anne Ledoux, PhD, of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, and colleagues explained.

Dr. Andrée-Anne Ledoux, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa

Dr. Andrée-Anne Ledoux

The researchers conducted a population-based retrospective cohort study to evaluate associations between concussion and risk of subsequent mental health issues, psychiatric hospitalizations, self-harm, or suicides in children and adolescents, with follow-up ranging from 1 month to 10 years.

The data were obtained from province-wide health administrative databases. Participants with concussion were included in an exposed group, while those with an orthopedic injury were included in a 1:2 age- and sex-matched comparison group.


The study cohort comprised 448,803 participants, including 152,321 and 296,482 children and adolescents with concussion and orthopedic injury, respectively.

The incidence rates of any mental health problem were 11,141 per 100,000 person-years in the exposed group and 7,960 per 100,000 person-years in the unexposed group (difference, 3,181; 95% confidence interval, 3,073-3,291 per 100,000 person-years).

After concussion, the exposed group had a greater risk of developing a mental health issue (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.37-1.40), psychiatric hospitalization (aHR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.41-1.53), and self-harm (aHR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.42-1.56). In addition, there was no significant difference in death by suicide between the exposed and unexposed groups (HR, 1.54; 95% CI, 0.90-2.61).

“Our results suggest that clinicians should assess for preexisting and new mental health symptoms throughout concussion recovery and treat mental health conditions or symptoms or refer the patient to a specialist in pediatric mental health,” wrote Dr. Ledoux and colleagues. “[Clinicians should also] assess suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviors during evaluation and follow-up visits for concussion.”

The researchers acknowledged that a key limitation of the study was the retrospective observational design. In addition, the identification of exposures using diagnostic billing codes could have introduced exposure or outcome misclassification.

Expert-recommended resources

“For more information, I’d recommend ‘Pedsconcussion,’ which are evidence-based living guidelines for pediatric concussion care,” Dr. Ledoux said in an interview. “Within domain 8, there are specific guidelines related to the management of mental health issues post concussion.”

Dr. Talin Babikian, University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Talin Babikian

Neuropsychology expert Talin Babikian, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, commented: “Studies have shown that even a single psychoeducational session early after a concussion can minimize prolonged recoveries. Ensuring all stakeholders (family, clinicians, school, coach, peers) are on the same page and providing the same information is important to build trust and a sense of safety and agency.

“We want to provide psychoeducation early in the process to avoid unnecessary fear and avoidance. We also want to curtail misattribution of everyday symptoms or symptoms related to an unrelated condition to a brain injury, which are easier to do when caught early,” Dr. Babikian added.

This study was supported by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, which is funded by an annual grant from the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Long-term Care. One author reported financial relationships with the University of Ottawa, the National Football League, Parachute Canada, and 360 Concussion Care, an interdisciplinary concussion clinic; no other conflicts of interest were reported.

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