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Brain Damage, Behavior, And Football

In psychiatry, we’ve had a hard time drawing precise links between brain pathology and psychiatric disorders. We can do it for groups of people: “Disease X” is associated with changes in brain structure of “Brain Area Y” or metabolic changes in “Brain Area Z.” But it’s groups, not individuals, and it’s an association, not a cause-and-effect, or a definite. We still can’t use this information for diagnosis, and there are still patients with any given psychiatric diagnoses who will have brains where “Area Y” is the same size as those without the disorder. We’re learning.

From what I read in this New York Times article, Owen Thomas was a bright, talented young man with no history of psychiatric disorder and no history of known concussion. In April, he committed suicide — a tragedy beyond words.

Sometime people commit suicide and everyone is left to wonder: There was no depression, no obvious precipitant, no note left behind, and every one is left to wonder why. The guilt toll on the survivors is enormous, as is the grief for their families and communities. In this case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the young man was apparently struggling with the stress of difficult school work and concerns about his team and employment.

Owen’s family donated his brain to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. They discovered that Owen’s brain showed damage similar to that seen in older NFL players — he had a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

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