The Effect of Concussions in Teens on Mental Health

If your teenager plays sports, you might be concerned about the possibility of a concussion, or brain injury. It’s not only teens who play sports who are at risk, though. And while you likely know the common symptoms of a concussion, you might not know what the long-term effects could be. Sometimes, a concussion can cause mental health issues, either right away or later. This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and steps to prevent concussions in teens so that you can help to keep your athletic teen safe.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of brain injury, often called a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. It generally occurs after an incident where the head is bumped hard or jolted. The brain “floats” within the skull, and a hard jolt can cause it to bang against the skull. This can damage brain cells and create chemical changes. Concussions can be severe or mild. In some cases, a concussion can be fatal, but most of the time, they are not life-threatening.

Sometimes the symptoms of a concussion appear immediately, but other times they take hours or even days to develop. After a head injury, look for the following symptoms:

  • a persistent headache
  • amnesia
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • ringing in the ears
  • sleepiness

If your teen loses consciousness after a head injury, even for a few moments, take him or her to the emergency room. If these symptoms don’t begin within a few hours, there might be a delayed reaction to a concussion. These can start after a few days and might include irritability, sensitivity to light, and not being able to taste or smell as well as usual.

How Do Teens Tend to Get Concussions?

Concussions in teens can be caused in a variety of ways. You might think of sports as the primary reason why teens might get a brain injury. Football, soccer, baseball, and a variety of contact and non-contact sports can result in head injuries. Teenagers are generally moving at a faster pace and with more force than younger children, which puts them at a greater risk of having serious injuries, including concussions.

Teens also tend to get concussions during other activities. Riding a bicycle or skateboard without a helmet can lead to a brain injury. So can getting into a car accident. In addition, teenagers might take risks like jumping headfirst into a shallow swimming pool, jumping too high on a trampoline, or even walking around on a slippery roof. Any of these can lead to serious injury.

Neurological and Cognitive Issues

Even when a concussion is not life-threatening, it can lead to neurological or cognitive issues that linger for a long time. Your teen might recover well from his or her concussion but still deal with feeling like they’re somewhat impaired. One study showed that nearly 40 percent of college athletes who had suffered from concussions still had minor impairment after they reported that all symptoms had resolved. If a teen gets another concussion during that time when they are still impaired, the danger of developing worse complications the next time is increased.

If your teen has a concussion and then does not feel completely back to normal, this can lead to anxiety and a feeling of overwhelm. A busy teenager who has previously juggled schoolwork, sports, an after school job, and an active social life can become very frustrated when they find that they can’t handle all of their activities anymore. If this frustration is left unchecked, it could lead to:

  • Anger issues
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

It’s important to be sympathetic to this type of issue, which may linger for months or longer after a concussion.

Concussions and Depression

Some teens will develop depression after a concussion. This can be separate from the depression that might develop during the recovery period as a result of lingering cognitive impairment. There is some evidence that concussions early in life can lead to depression years later. Having more three or more concussions might actually double the risk of developing depression. It’s unclear why concussions in teens might lead to higher levels of depression.

On the other hand, recent studies have shown that a concussion does not make teenagers more prone to developing depression within two years of the injury. While temporary depression, irritability, and other neurological mood differences might be present shortly after the brain injury, it might not be likely to become a matter of course for the teenager. Because sports, in general, can make teens more sociable, raise their self-esteem, and increase their chances of getting into college, it’s not recommended that most teenagers avoid sports in an effort to avoid getting a concussion to reduce the risk of depression.

Preventing Concussions in Teens

You probably already know that preventing concussions in teens is easier and more effective than treating one. To help prevent your teen from getting a concussion, here are a few tips.

Encourage your teen to follow the rules when playing sports. Make sure he or she wears the appropriate protective equipment is familiar with the safety guidelines. Insist that your teen wear a helmet when biking and skateboarding. In some areas, teenagers under the age of 18 must wear helmets. If this is not the case where you are, consider approaching your local officials about making the law (or enforcing it, if enforcement has been lax).

Also, talk to your teens about making sensible choices. Diving into an above ground pool and not wearing a seatbelt are both dangerous, and your teen knows this logically.

Know the signs of a concussion and teach them to your teenager. If your teen or someone else hits their head and is vomiting, not able to speak properly, having trouble walking, passes out, or is not able to stay awake, call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room. Quick treatment can minimize the disruption that a concussion causes.

If your teen has suffered a concussion, know the signs of depression and take him or her to the doctor promptly if you see them.

Also, let your teen know that it’s a process to overcome a concussion. Knowing what to expect can help your child relax and let the healing process occur without feeling as much stress over it.