Tom Robenalt, a Chicago traumatic brain injury attorney, pointed recently to a study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, which suggested that multiple traumatic brain injuries or concussions, may be the precursor to military suicides, just as it is with sports-related suicides.
The study goes further than just suggesting there may be a link between military suicides and TBI and sports-related suicides and multiple concussions, according to Robenalt. It offers the speculation that many of the men in military service played sports before they enlisted. Many suffered head injuries while playing those sports, a state of affairs further exacerbated by concussive shock waves that buffeted their heads when an improvised explosive device (IED) was triggered while on a tour of duty overseas.
“What this speculation gives rise to is that those servicemen who enlisted with pre-existing TBI, but still functioning well enough to enlist, were even more prone to suicidal thoughts,” said Robenalt. “More prone than someone who had not sustained concussions while playing sports or someone that had never had a head injury.”
Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are noted factors in suicides, according to Robenalt. If these conditions existed prior to an individual enlisting in the military, they would be aggravated by combat conditions, which may explain the higher levels of suicides in the Armed Forces, he added
The study was conducted by an Air Force psychologist and included 161 individuals sent to his clinic for suspected concussions. Those interviewed were asked about any history of head trauma, any battles with depression, PTSD or struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“The major conclusion drawn from the study was that many of the head injuries the men talked about were sustained before they joined the military. Some former service personnel indicated they had received as many as six head injuries prior to reporting for duty. Additionally, roughly 20 percent suffered further concussions during basic training,” said Robenalt. “The implication of the report is that sustaining earlier head trauma may create a pre-existing disposition activated by further head trauma in combat. Some military members reported they had sustained up to 15 brain injuries while on a tour of duty.”
If these findings gain more credence over time, Robenalt theorized, the military may face a similar situation to the National Football League.