In an article published today in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, Grant Iverson, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School cautions that the science underlying the assertions linking CTE neuropathology, depression, and suicide is inconclusive.
“There has been an assumption in the literature (and the media) that the neuropathology of CTE causes depression and increases the risk for suicide in former athletes and military veterans. However, risk factors for suicide in former NFL players and other collision sport athletes should be considered in the broader context of the risk for suicide in the general population,” Iverson wrote.
The article outlines the diverse risk factors for depression and suicidality—including chronic pain, financial difficulties, and substance abuse—as well as evidence suggesting that many of the clinical features attributed to CTE are comorbid in men with depression who do not have a history of repetitive neurotrauma.
“It is important for health care providers to appreciate that there are multiple underlying biopsychosocial causes for mental health problems in former athletes—and these mental health problems might improve substantially with treatment,” Iverson wrote. “This reinforces the pressing need to provide evidence-based mental health treatment to those who are experiencing depression, substance abuse problems, and life stressors.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Suicide, Chronic Encephalopathy Link Questioned.”