by Luka Laden
From mysterious condition to hot-button medical issue, concussions have moved into the forefront of the conversation when sports and athletes are involved. Now that more and more young people are choosing to play football, basketball, and soccer, embracing the status of being a dedicated athlete, more and more young people are also at risk of sustaining a blow to the head and suffering from subsequent brain trauma, more commonly known as a concussion. While some of the symptoms usually associated with concussions, like dizziness, blurry vision, and nausea are well-known, the long-term impact of head trauma is the topic of many new studies, which attempt to clear up the true significance of brain trauma for young athletes. We know that migraines, ranging from mild and infrequent to severe and persistent, can result from head injuries, for obvious reasons, but are there more serious problems when a concussion is sustained?Compared to other injuries, such as a torn ankle ligament or sprained wrist, concussions are very unique in that the symptoms, as well as the duration of these symptoms, are so unpredictable and wide-ranging. Full recovery may take a few days, but it may also take several months. Some athletes never fully recover. We already know what’s common, but how bad can things get? Unfortunately, the indications aren’t very promising.
Several studies have shown that people who have sustained one or more concussions may experience greater difficulties involving emotion. Three studies in particular, documented by Jennie Ponsford, Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, and Robert J. Ferguson (among others), tracked symptom reports submitted by large groups of patients suffering from post-concussion syndrome (PCS), as well as reports of expected PCS symptoms submitted by non-injured participants in contact sports, who made up the control group. The specific focus of these studies was the emotional toll of brain injuries, as the injured subjects reported on their altered feelings and tendencies following their concussions. In fact, most of the injured subjects reported that they had noticed a negative effect on their respective personalities and emotional traits because of brain trauma, ranging from moodiness and irritability to sadness and a lack of enthusiasm. The symptom reports showed a common pessimism among the injured subjects, in terms of their changed emotional states of mind. As a result of these reports, emotional symptoms of irritability, moodiness, and depression were linked to head trauma among athletes (Moser, 2007). The subjects in these studies demonstrated that there appears to be a tangible connection between brain injuries and symptoms that resemble depression and emotional instability. If indeed true, these findings are far more worrisome than a minor headache or a little bit of lightheadedness. When sustaining a concussion, being at risk for some form of depression down the road must be an important consideration for an athlete deciding when and whether to return to the playing field or court. It has been found that, only three months after the injury, a concussed athlete tends to suffer from concurrent anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress, all of which may lead to prolonged depression (Ponsford, 2012). In the short run, concussions can carry severe emotional consequences and the threat of a snowballing downward spiral of persistent depression is rather ominous and scary. Even worse, the greater problem with concussions revolves around the fact that symptoms may linger for years, which means that PCS can result in heightened, sustained emotional distress that lasts for a decade, or maybe even longer (Ferguson, 1999). Emotional imbalance and instability may not go away after three months, for instance, which opens up the possibility of lifelong depression and connected emotional problems that never seem to subside. As these studies show us, it’s clearly not an understatement to say that sustaining a concussion can wreak havoc in the long run.