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Mental health concerns are common in children following a concussion, study finds

Experts worry about kids struggling with anxiety or depression long term

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A new study conducted by researchers from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has explored the mental health risks associated with young children enduring concussions

According to the researchers' findings, more than 30% of children who experience a concussion are likely to struggle with mental health issues following the injury

“Mental health is essential to concussion recovery,” said researcher Vicki Anderson. “Concussion may both precipitate and exacerbate mental health difficulties, impacting delayed recovery and psychosocial outcomes.” 

Long-term concussion risks

For the study, the researchers analyzed nearly 70 earlier studies that looked at the association between mental health and concussion recovery. In analyzing the health outcomes from more than 90,000 children who experienced head injuries over the course of four decades, the team looked at how concussions impacted long-term mental health. 

Ultimately, the researchers noticed a significant trend between head injuries and mental health issues, and this was true for both those with and without a history of mental health struggles prior to getting hurt. 

Twenty percent of injured children experienced externalized mental health problems, such as attention issues, aggression, and hyperactivity, while nearly 37% struggled with issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress following their head injuries. 

“When a child has a concussion they might look fine, but you can’t see the underlying impact,” said Bruce Henry, the father of study participant Emma Henry, who has been undergoing mental health treatment after two concussions. “It’s so important for mental health to form part of concussion management, which has been essential to Emma’s recovery process.” 

In the study, Emma Henry explained that after her two concussions, she struggled to find meaning to do simple tasks, like completing school work or going for walks, both of which impacted her mental health. 

The researchers also noted that the mental health symptoms following a concussion affect each child differently. While some children struggle for a few months, others can have symptoms persist for years after their injuries. 

Moving forward, the team hopes that these findings impact concussion treatment protocol for kids and adolescents. Because of the longer recovery time associated with young people’s head injuries, these findings can help identify those at the highest risk of struggling with mental health long term. 

“Despite the high incidence of concussion among children and adolescents, identifying those at risk of ongoing difficulties after concussion remains a prominent challenge for clinicians,” said researcher Alice Gornall. 

“Incorporating mental health risk into post-injury management represents an opportunity to engage children and adolescents with mental health services to either prevent unnecessary problems emerging or to treat already existing issues,” said Anderson. 

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