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The connection between mental health and concussions

As someone who devotes countless hours to sports of all kinds, I know that injuries are inevitable. I have torn the same muscle in my arm twice, sprained my media collateral ligament (MCL), hyperextended my knee, and sprained my ankles and fingers an innumerable amount of times. I am probably forgetting a couple more that I do not remember. That’s because remembering has been difficult ever since I suffered three concussions consecutively in three weeks.

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By Harvin Bhathal (Contributor) – Email

As someone who devotes countless hours to sports of all kinds, I know that injuries are inevitable. I have torn the same muscle in my arm twice, sprained my media collateral ligament (MCL), hyperextended my knee, and sprained my ankles and fingers an innumerable amount of times. I am probably forgetting a couple more that I do not remember. That’s because remembering has been difficult ever since I suffered three concussions consecutively in three weeks. Yes, three concussions in three weeks.

I’ve learned that if a doctor advises you to take it easy by avoiding physical activities or things that will cause too much strain on your brain, listen. It is not as easy as it seems to follow, especially if you are an athlete. All of my concussions were mild, but regardless, it was a difficult time. I experienced common symptoms of concussions such as dizziness, blurry vision, nausea, memory problems, and the worst of all, headaches. The headaches caused me the most trouble by far, because whenever I tried to focus it put too much strain on my brain, and in turn, a persistent headache ensued. To say the least, the following two months were not the greatest for me.

As tough as my experience was, it is not even close to what others with more serious concussions have endured. Possibly the two most infamous cases of concussions are Marc Savard in the NHL and Junior Seau in the NFL. Savard suffered a grade 2 concussion on March 7, 2010, limiting his season to 41 games. He returned in time for the playoffs, but the damage was done. January 23, 2011 would be Marc Savard’s judgement day: the day of his last game played in the NHL. Due to suffering his second concussion in 10 months, Savard was shut down for the rest of the season, cutting his season short to 25 games. Recurring symptoms of post-concussion syndrome soon followed, and it has been over four years since Marc Savard last played in the NHL. When Savard was asked about his quality of life in an interview with TSN 1050, he said, “I’m doing good. Things are getting better for me. I still have some issues, but I can’t complain; life’s pretty good … ”

The issues that the former Bruin refers to are migraines and seeing ”dots” in hot weather. The concussions I suffered had no such lasting effects as Marc Savard’s had caused for him; however, the same cannot be said for Junior Seau, who was only 43 years old at his time of death. Unlike Savard, Seau’s judgment day on May 2, 2012 would serve to be the last day of his life, as he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest at his home. The death of such a beloved figure caused the 2011 suicide of former NFL player Dave Duerson to be recalled, as the way in which Seau committed suicide was eerily similar. Duerson, requesting his brain be studied for brain trauma, left a suicide note. Although Seau had no prior reported history of concussions, his ex-wife stated that he did in fact sustain concussions during his playing career. Reportedly, Junior Seau had suffered from insomnia for the last seven years of his life, and was taking a prescription drug commonly prescribed for sleep disorders called Zolpidem (brand name Ambien). Seau was speculated to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that dozens of deceased former NFL players have been found to have had. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that Seau did in fact show definitive signs of CTE.

The death of Junior Seau served as a wake-up call for the league and its players when it came to concussions and their connection to mental health. Compared to 10 years ago, players are now much more aware of concussions and their short- and long-term effects. Due to this, a drove of NFL players retired in the 2015 offseason. Patrick Willis, who was one of the best linebackers of his generation and a future Hall of Famer, was the first to retire, doing so at the young age of 30. While 30 years old may not seem too young, rising stars such as the linebackers Chris Borland and Jason Worilds soon followed suit and respectively retired at the ages of 24 and 27. A fear of future mental health problems was the prime reason for retiring, and I do not blame them. American football has the highest chance out of all sports to suffer a concussion at 75 per cent. Although it is suspected that more and more players will retire in the future due to the risks of playing the sport, it is surprising that more players haven’t retired already. With that outstanding mark being as high as it is, it is shocking that football is the most popular sport in America, and by a wide margin.

The world as a whole is becoming more knowledgeable about mental health problems, as the information has never been more available then it is now. Because I knew about these aforementioned players and the issues they have faced in regards to concussions and future mental health problems, I knew that I would have to be more careful. In order to live the life I wanted, I would have to take caution, both now and in the future. Having already had three concussions in my young life, the risk of having future concussions and mental health problems is higher than I want it to be. Take it from someone who has experienced this first hand; even if you are not an athlete, educate yourself on the issue of mental health. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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