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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Kids With Head Injuries May Be Prone to Depression

Study found they were more likely to be diagnosed with mood disorder, but reason for link is unclear


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 pointed out.

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 added.

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 their surroundings.

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 peer-reviewed journal.

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