Health Tips brought to you by U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group. Our experienced medical experts provide information here that we hope will broaden your health care knowledge.
Today we talk to Dr. A.K. Misra, medical director for U.S. HealthWorks in South San Francisco, about former NFL players and their risk of suicide. Dr. Misra is double-board certified in Sports Medicine and Internal Medicine.
Q: I reviewed the recent article that stated suicide is not higher amongst NFL players as compared to the general public. Is the study correct?
A: Yes, the study is correct. This issue cuts across two intersecting matters. First, unfortunately suicide is an increasing health hazard in America. Today, a person in America is now more likely to die of suicide than of a motor vehicle accident. On average, one physician a day in America commits suicide.
Suicide is not just a problem in the U.S. For a point of comparison in Asia, in recent years The Republic of Korea (a.k.a. South Korea) overtook Japan as having the highest suicide rate there, while in India suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 19-30. In the world, only Guyana has a higher suicide rate than South Korea. Without question, we need more public health attention paid to this issue.
The second matter is concussions of NFL players has received considerable attention in the media and medical community (not just sports medicine). Please see my prior blog, Revisiting the dangers of concussions. Any time anything happens with an NFL player—especially the more well-known ones—it makes headlines, especially if it something dramatic on lines of a suicide. The very nature of this “reporting dynamic” ends up leaving a perception the rate of suicide in NFL players is more versus the general population. This is because so few come to learn of the numerous stories of the suicides of the American public; such stories rarely make the news as these unfortunate individuals usually are not famous in any way.
The movie Concussion spoke to the tragic stories of high-profile NFL players whose lives ended in extremely poor state of affairs and touched on people’s sensibilities and sensitivities. No doubt about it, those unfortunate individuals suffered terribly and the association of concussion to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) to premature death by way of suicide became an understood “fait accompli” in the mind of many who saw the film — some physicians included.
Many left the movie feeling they were virtual experts on this topic. Professionals in the medical community (especially sports medicine physicians, neurologists and athletic trainers) deal with this issue in real life, so oversimplification was the default of many after watching this movie, which by all accounts was well done.
Q: Given this is the current state of affairs of knowledge and evidence, what does the future hold?
A: To date, no scientific study has shown that NFL players are at a higher risk for suicide than the general public. In fact, as the report states, the opposite has been demonstrated to date. The intuitive leap being made is premature, but perhaps such a correlation will be demonstrated in the future. However, that remains to be seen.
As a sports internist, I have spent considerable time studying this and owe much of my understanding regarding this complex and controversial topic to my friend, colleague and longtime sports medicine mentor dating back to my post-doctoral training – Dr. Anthony Saglimbeni. A sports internist for both the San Francisco Giants and San Francisco 49ers, he is also the founder of California Concussion Institute, so I consider him one of the authorities on this topic. As the old saying goes, “time will tell” as to what the future holds.
Featured photo of NFL game courtesy of Kelth Alllson @ Flickr.