Player Suicide Symptom of Larger Problem
Depression widespread among retired football pros

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In a front-page article in today’s New York Times, WVU neurosurgeon Julian Bailes, M.D., said he was not surprised by the link other researchers made between an NFL player’s suicide and long-term brain damage caused by repeated head injuries.

"Unfortunately, I’m not shocked, “Dr. Bailes told the Times. 

An autopsy performed in Pittsburgh on Andre Waters, who took his life last year at age 44, showed advanced brain deterioration of the sort most commonly found in people well past the age of 80. Waters formerly played for the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Bailes is chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at WVU and director the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, based in North Carolina. He says the link between head injury and long-term cognitive problems is well established. In an article to appear this spring in a medical journal, Bailes will examine the correlation between multiple concussions and clinical depression.

About 11 percent of the 2,500 former NFL players in the study were diagnosed with clinical depression, Bailes said. That’s a far higher incidence than in the population as a whole, he added.

“Clinical depression can affect many aspects of your health, and is a factor in suicides,” he said.

“The real message we should take from the unfortunate suicide of Andre Waters is that multiple concussions during a football career can have serious long term effects. We can’t wait until a player retires to deal with this,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of coachers, trainers and team physicians to provide proper management when head injuries occur. That means not letting people with concussions return to play until they have been fully evaluated, and have had a chance to consider their future health.”


- WVU -

For more information:
Steve Bovino, HSC News Service, (304) 293-7087

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