FRIDAY, Oct. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Children who've suffered a
concussion or other head injury seem to have a much
higher-than-average rate of depression, a new study finds.
Using data from a U.S. health survey, researchers found that
children and teenagers who'd ever sustained a brain injury were
much more likely to have ever been diagnosed with depression.
Overall, 15 percent had received that diagnosis, while the
national prevalence was less than 4 percent, the investigators
The finding does not prove that kids' head injuries caused the
depression, said Keith Yeates, a pediatric neuropsychologist who
was not involved in the study.
But there is a "well-documented" connection between brain
injury, particularly more severe ones, and depression in adults,
said Yeates, who heads pediatric psychology and neuropsychology at
Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
There have been some small studies of children, but the findings
have been more mixed, according to Yeates. While this latest study
doesn't prove cause-and-effect, it does support an association
between brain injury and depression in kids, he said.
It's not clear why the link exists, Yeates noted. Even so, he
said doctors should assess children for behavioral problems and
mood symptoms, including depression and anxiety, as part of their
follow-up after a head injury.
Dr. Matthew Wylie, a pediatric emergency specialist who led the
study, agreed. "It's helpful for pediatricians to recognize that
there is this potential for depression, and to be attuned to
Wylie presented the findings Friday at the American Academy of
Pediatrics national conference in Orlando, Fla.
The results are based on a 2007 nationally representative study
covering nearly 82,000 children and teens younger than 18. Just
over 2,000 parents said their child had ever been diagnosed with a
"brain injury or concussion," and just over 3,100 said their child
had ever been diagnosed with depression -- for a national rate of
Among kids with a past head injury, however, the rate of
depression was about four times higher, at 15 percent, the
The researchers then weighed other factors in children's
depression risk, such as family income and mothers' mental health.
In the end, kids with a history of head injury still had double the
risk of depression as other kids.
The study had a number of limitations, both Wylie and Yeates
One is that "brain injury" and "concussion" were lumped together
into one question, Yeates noted. So it's not possible to tell
whether kids who suffered mild concussions had the same depression
risk as those with more serious brain injuries.
It's likely that more severe injuries would carry a greater
risk, Wylie said. But that's a question for future studies, he
It's also unclear which came first, the brain injury or the
depression. Yeates said it's possible that people with depression
are at greater risk of accidents and injury -- because, for
example, they have difficulty concentrating or are less aware of
On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that a blow to
the head could contribute to depression. "One possibility is that
there are alterations to the brain structure in areas associated
with mood regulation," Yeates explained.
There could also be indirect links. If a brain injury is serious
enough to hinder a child's functioning and ability to socialize
with friends, that could lead to depression, Yeates said.
As for what parents can do, Wylie advised focusing on head
injury prevention: Bike helmets, proper seat belt use and safety
equipment for sports will all lower risk. If your child has already
suffered a concussion or other brain injury, Wylie said, be on the
lookout for potential depression symptoms.
At the same time, though, Yeates stressed that parents should
not be unduly alarmed. The majority of childhood brain injuries are
concussions or other milder forms, and while they should be taken
seriously, most kids recover fully, he said.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical
meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
concussion and other brain injuries.
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