Suicide and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – Surprising Risk Factors

Traumatic Brain Injury and Suicide

We examine the connection between suicide and traumatic brain injury, shining a light on mental health issues.


We’ve discussed how the Distinguished Gentleman’s ride, which raises awareness for prostate cancer and men’s mental health. Today, I want to continue our discussion of men’s mental health and introduce some surprising new research into possible causes.

In the United States, 33,000 men commit suicide each year, making suicide the 7th leading cause of death for American men. What’s more, suicide ranks as the second most common cause of death for men aged 10 to 39. In addition, suicide rates for men aged 45 to 64 have jumped by 43% over the last decade and a half.

What’s clear is this: men’s – and women’s – mental health issues warrant attention and discussion. We want to shine a light on these issues and continue the discussion here.

Suicide Risk Factors

Suicide has several well-known risk factors, among them the loss of a job or intimate partner, social isolation, access to firearms, and feeling trapped by your life circumstances.

Another risk factor is increasingly the subject of research and discussion: traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is much more common that you might think. For example, mild TBI can be as simple as a concussion. Much of this new research involves looking at the “invisible” damage done to our soldiers by body compression as a result of an explosive event. Many soldiers survive close explosions without apparent bodily injury, but non-lethal explosive force can cause the same type of damage as a sports-related concussion.

Dr. Michael Lewis, President and Founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, sees initial traumatic injury as the tip of the iceberg. It’s his belief that an initial injury can set off a cascade of damage that continues for decades. This long-term damage is primarily due to inflammation. An immune response that leads to neurodegeneration also plays a role.

To be clear, it’s generally thought that the brain can fully recover from a single concussion. Repeated TBI, on the other hand, can be much more serious. It’s potentially linked to depression, dementia, and other long-term neurological problems.

Suicide and Traumatic Brain Injury

A study published in 2015 found a link between major depressive events and brain inflammation. Further, an important study completed in 2016 found a 300% increase in suicide risk after a concussion.

In the study, the authors discuss the connection between suicide and traumatic brain injury. They conclude that “Adults with a diagnosis of concussion had an increased long-term risk of suicide, particularly after concussions on weekends. Greater attention to the long-term care of patients after a concussion in the community might save lives because deaths from suicide can be prevented.”

Reducing Traumatic Brain Injury Damage

When it comes to suicide and traumatic brain injury, avoiding concussions is the best form of prevention. However, when it comes to sports injuries and combat, it’s likely that concussions will continue to occur and that some people will be subjected to repeated brain trauma.

To reduce the risk of long-term problems, it’s important to provide the brain with as much neuro support and protection as possible. The latest research suggests that increasing dietary intake of Omega-3s (found mostly in fish) and macular carotenoids (found in leafy greens like kale and spinach) improves the brain’s ability to recover.

To be clear, you should increase Omega-3 intake before suffering an injury. After an injury, rest, avoid re-injury, see your health practitioner, and add an Omega-3 supplementation program to your recovery protocol.

Herbal supplementation may also help. All of our curated herbs help protect the brain. Phyllanthus niruri can reduce inflammation, and Paeonia lacitflora, Cistanche tubulosa and Polygala tenuifolia may increase brain plasticity by stimulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor, also known as BDNF. Increasing brain plasticity and improving new neuron and dendrite growth are critical to helping the brain recover from injury. While our plants won’t necessarily reduce the risk of suicide after a concussion, they can stimulate BDNF and may optimize the brain’s ability to heal.

Please Seek Help

Here, we’ve focused on the connection between suicide and traumatic brain injury. TBI is neither the only driver nor necessarily even the major driver for those at risk of suicide. Our aim is to start a conversation on a topic that too many avoid discussing. We encourage anyone thinking about suicide to seek help, just as we encourage family members to be aware of the signs and risk factors. Awareness and treatment are key.

Stand with The Gentleman’s Ride. Stop one man dying every minute from suicide. Stop 307,000 men dying from prostate cancer every year. Donate today.

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