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Once-Concussed Teenagers Found to Be at Higher Risk for Bullying, Suicide

Teenagers who have suffered a traumatic brain injury such as a concussion are twice as likely to be bullied and roughly three times as likely to attempt suicide compared to those who haven't, according to a new study published online today in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The study drew upon data from the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, which contains responses from nearly 9,300 students between grades 7 and 12 in 181 publicly funded schools across Ontario. Questions about traumatic brain injuries were added to the OSDUHS for the first time in 2011 and were answered by a subsample of 4,816 students.

The teenagers were asked whether they had ever suffered a head injury that resulted in them being unconscious for at least five minutes or required at least one night's stay in a hospital. Just under 20 percent of the students involved in the study had suffered at least one head injury that met either of those qualifications.

According to the OSDUHS data, teenagers who have suffered a concussion are at "significantly greater odds" of engaging in a variety of high-risk behavior, including intentionally damaging property, theft of more than $50, setting a fire, running away from home, breaking into a locked building, intentionally hurting someone, carrying a weapon, and getting into a fight at school. They're also more likely to become bullies, to have sought counseling through a crisis help-line or to have been prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, or both.

"These results show that preventable brain injuries and mental health and behavioral problems among teens continue to remain a blind spot in our culture," said Gabriela Ilie, the lead author of the study and a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael's Hospital, in a statement. "These kids are falling through the cracks."

Teenagers who have suffered a concussion also tend to be victimized by peers more frequently than those who haven't endured a traumatic brain injury. They had twice the odds of being bullied at school or via the Internet and almost three times the odds of being threatened at school with a weapon.

The findings "point to the need for primary health-care providers, as well as schools, to be aware of the potential comorbid conditions affecting the health and well-being of young people who have suffered [traumatic brain injuries]," Ilie and her colleagues conclude.

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