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Suicide and Football – Linked by CTE

Suicide and Football – Linked by CTE

Suicide and Football  – Violence, Depression and Brain Disease

By Attorney Gordon Johnson

It has to the worst moment in any parent’s life. Your child has just committed suicide. It happens to thousands of teens and young adults every year, with usually no answers but depression and adolescence. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry lists these causes on for Suicide on its web page: “Teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears while growing up.” Click here for the AACAP’s webpage.

The cause which isn’t listed is brain damage suffered while playing combat sports, such as football. Yet, we know that suicide is the leading cause of death of those with the early stages of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Suicide and Brain Damage go together.  Among the most famous former football players to commit suicide are Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Both shot themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for autopsy. Both were found to have CTE.

Suicide and CTE

During the early stages of CTE (aka Dementia Pugilistica), severe depression and suicide are among the most common features. CTE is the perfect storm for suicide as it synergistically combines the following traits in a despondent individual:

  1. Depression, anxiety, paranoia;
  2. Reduced impulse control;
  3. Behavioral extremes that can often be violent; and
  4. Despair.

Suicide and Football Linked to Brain Changes

Postmortem studies of the brains of people who have died by suicide have shown a number of visible differences compared to those who died from other causes. Suicide is a result of a disease of the brain. CTE is one of the diseases that causes changes that can be seen on postmortem studies of brains.

Suicide Risk Great for Young Men who Played Football

The period of time after a young man would stop playing youth football is the most difficult adjustment period during a person’s life. Hormonal, growth, social adjustment, developing adulthood manners and lifestyles, leaving home, starting college, all add extraordinary psychic stress to young people’s lives. Bullying is also a problem in this age group.

The vast majority of suicide attempts do not succeed, yet men and boys are far more likely to succeed at a suicide attempt than women and girls. Violent methods of suicide such as shooting oneself and hanging oneself are far more likely to succeed than other methods. Dementia Pugilistica dramatically increases the suicidal ideation of those who suffer from it. The violent culture of football teaches these young people the violence that makes a suicidal attempt more likely to be successful. There are more gun deaths in the United States from suicide than there are from murder.

Football and CTE are the perfect Storm for suicide. The undiagnosed young man who has CTE will have learned the pattern of violence from this combat sport. Football deconditions the sufferer from the horrific result of violence, even death.  “Be a man, tough it out, pushing through hard times, don’t be a chicken.” Football teaches young men not to fear, to inflict punishment. The end result is violence. When directed towards oneself, the end result is a dead child, someone’s child, regardless of the that person’s age. See WBUR’s story today about the struggles a family went through after a child’s death. This is not a football suicide, at least not as yet identified. http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/02/suicide-series-opener?utm_source=cc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=nwsltr-15-02-05

Suicide is not the act of a coward. It is more likely the act of someone who had too little fear and no way to find a basis for hope in the fog of despair.

One parent wanted to know whether her 25-year old child’s suicide was caused by football, even though he only played at the youth and high school football. She asked for an autopsy. What she learned may forever change how we feel about children playing football.

Next – One Parent’s Journey to the Truth about CTE and Youth Football

For the BuzzFeed story on the CTE of Joseph Chernach, click here

 


Attorney Gordon Johnson :: g@gordonjohnson.com :: :: Facebook :: 800-992-9447
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice

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