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A link between sport-related concussion and depression in elite athletes

Photo: Concussion, depression link in athletes
A review of all the evidence has established a link between sport-related concussion and depression in American elite athletes.

Researchers have established a link between sport-related concussion and depression in elite athletes, leading to calls for greater vigilance of the issue among Australian sporting bodies.

A study, published in US journal Sports Medicine, systematically reviewed all the evidence on concussion and mental health outcomes in thousands of elite athletes from across North America and Canada, namely NFL players.

In total, 27 studies were reviewed, looking at the impact of concussion on depression symptoms, anxiety, attention and impulsivity issues and aggression.
"Essentially what we were seeing was a linkage between concussion exposure and depression," said lead investigator Dr Sime Rice at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.

However this is just an association and it can't be said that concussion causes depression, Dr Rice noted.

Mixed evidence was found on anxiety and such a link would be "premature," wrote the authors.

Dr Rice says the findings of the systematic review affirm the current "conservative" on-field concussion protocols in Australian professional football.

"In AFL, for example, it's often the case that a player will be taken straight off the field, they'll be assessed and in many cases they won't then re-enter the field to continue play if they don't pass the concussion test," said Dr Rice.

However, he says, a greater focus should be paid to the mental and emotional wellbeing of elite sportspeople, particularly those exposed to concussion.

"It is essential that sporting bodies to be vigilant in identifying concussion, and provide athletes with appropriate supports to restore both their physical and mental health," said Dr Rice.

Dr Rice says while the review focused on American athletes, he says its entirely possible a link between depression and concussion would be found among Australian elite athletes.

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