Following the suicide of former First-Team NFL All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau in early May, sports injury prevention has taken on a new sense of urgency. Last week, attendees at the 2012 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) put the topic front and center in a special panel discussion. The doctors agreed that the most important measure that keeps young athletes from following Seau's path is preventive therapy.
Like many athletes, Seau suffered a number of concussions during his career. Multiple concussions can cause traumatic brain injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which factored in the suicide of another retired NFL player, Dave Duerson, in February 2011. CTE comes with side effects like uncontrolled impulses, depression and dementia; and it may have been responsible for Seau's spiral of depression.
Psychiatrists at the meeting said that sports injury prevention starts with parents making sure their children take care of themselves after sustaining a serious injury like a concussion. Too often, young athletes don't take the time they need to heal, because they feel pressured to get back to the game as soon as possible. Parents and coaches should remember that health comes first. Competition can wait.
To prevent deaths like Seau's and Duerson's, members of the APA panel also suggest counseling, believing that mandatory talk therapy can prevent athletes from entering the high-risk category. The time to see a counselor is not when an athlete gets injured, but when he or she starts to show athletic promise. By the time superstars become professionals, it may be too late to change destructive habits and correct misguided thinking.