Are Kids With Depression Who Play Football At Higher Risk For Concussions?

By Paul Fuhr 12/21/18

Researchers investigated whether kids with depression who play the contact sport are at a higher risk of suffering a concussion.

Kids with depression playing football

Kids who suffer concussions while playing football may be at a greater risk of depression than others, Time reported.

Published in The Journal of Pediatrics, the research squares with previous studies concluding that depression is an “all-too-common symptom of concussions,” as young athletes and retired NFL players alike struggle with mental health issues following brain injuries sustained on the football field. 

Time, however, turned the situation on its head by asking if kids diagnosed with depression who play football are somehow more susceptible to suffering concussions than others their age.

Surprisingly, new research on the matter says yes, as children who have been previously diagnosed with depression have a “five-fold increased risk” of suffering concussions.

The new study collected data on 863 youth football players (aged 5 to 14) in the Seattle area across two separate seasons. Interestingly, researchers found that 5.1% of those football players suffered concussions — a trend well above the 4.4% range tracked in previous studies. Also, only 16 of the 863 players had been diagnosed with depression (0.02%). 

Regardless, researchers felt that their odds of suffering a concussion was “statistically significant” and would color many parents’ decisions to allow their kids to participate in the sport.

Dr. Sara Chrisman, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of adolescent medicine, argued that children with a history of depression are far more inclined to notice concussion symptoms (fatigue and nausea) than other kids. In other words, children who have already been diagnosed with depression are more likely to understand their symptoms, which might underscore the higher rate of reported concussions. 

“Often people with mental health issues are very in tune with uncomfortableness in their bodies,” said Chrisman. “They’re more likely to be aware of changes. What’s not as distressing to someone else, might be distressing to them.”

Additionally, Chrisman noted that prior research has linked depression and risky behavior — especially in young men. “In general, depression makes people want to crawl into a hole,” Chrisman said. “But depression is expressed differently in different people.” 

Adolescents with a history of depression might play football more aggressively than others, Chrisman suggested, which puts them at a much higher risk for suffering a concussion. Conversely, children who act aggressively are more likely to visit a psychologist, increasing the odds of a depression diagnosis. 

Still, while all signs point to a clear connection between concussions and depression, further research needs to be conducted before any definitive conclusions can be made on the subject. “To our knowledge, depression history has not been previously reported as a risk factor for concussions in a prospective manner,” the researchers wrote in their study. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom for children wanting to participate in football. “In general, we found that kids weren’t going back to play football until they’ve recovered from their concussions,” Chrisman observed, noting that many schools, parents and doctors have been effectively working together to ensure their kids’ well-being. “That hasn’t been true in some prior studies. Some systems in place are working.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.