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Death of OSU athlete provides us with important reminder about concussions, mental health, and young athletes

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Devastating news broke yesterday: Ohio State football player Kosta Karageorge, who disappeared Wednesday, was found dead Sunday night in a dumpster near his apartment.

Authorities said Karageorge was the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but do not yet know what precipitated his suicide.

However, an article in the Washington Post makes connections between Karageorge's death and his history of concussions, reminding us that concussions and their resulting complications must be thoroughly addressed.

Concussions occur when there is a change in mental status, such as confusion, headache or dizziness after a blow to the head, a jolt, or a significant whipping motion of the head. While many people recover from mild concussions in a few days or a week, others do not, says Frank N. Darras, America's top disability attorney.

"Concussions are often not treated seriously enough and players are encouraged to get back in the game before they're ready. Often, you were considered soft if someone knocked you out and you didn't come back in the next series of downs or at least at the quarter; that knockout was considered a badge of honor," Darras says. "But it is exactly that kind of thinking that leads to high risk for a second concussion and potential massive brain injury."

The NCAA has made efforts to research and understand any links between concussions and the mental health of its athletes, according to the Washington Post.

"In late July, the NCAA set aside $70 million for a medical monitoring fund after determining football players are three times more likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can leave its victims depressed, disoriented and suicidal. Worse, an NCAA report found, 'under-reporting of concussions is likely to be higher in football than in other contact sports, since football offers more in-game 'down time' during which the immediate symptoms of concussions can subside,'" ("The violent death of Ohio State's Kosta Karageorge - and the troubling link between suicide and concussions," Washington Post, December 1, 2014).

CTE, the progressive degenerative disease that has been found in the brains of several dead football players and athletes with repeated brain trauma, is still not well-understood and remains difficult to diagnose. However, the research on the link between concussions and mental illness does not begin and end here; for example, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found repeatedly concussed teens are three times more likely to develop depression.

While it's important to ensure teens and college students have proper health insurance in case of a serious injury, this sad news brings another set of concerns to our attention.

"We want to make sure our kids are not going to be subjected to something that has caused them great harm. Unfortunately, what we're seeing here is a combination of very harmful issues," Darras says. "Mental health care is an important but often ignored aspect of a young adult's life, and we should urge for better attention to these concerns. We also need to continue the fight to better understand the effects of concussions and prevent them from happening."

One step parents and coaches alike can take, Darras says, is to discuss the gravity of these concerns with their young athletes. "It's important to help young athletes understand they can and should report not only their injuries, but also any possible sequelae of those injuries. This includes any effects on their mental health. Research shows us that the game may need changes in order to reduce the risk of concussions, but in the meantime, we must do all we can to reduce the likelihood of another tragedy like this."

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