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The association between psychological distress and concussion history in college athletes
  1. Patricia R Combs1,2,
  2. Erin B Wasserman1,
  3. Corey J Rodrigo1,
  4. Kevin G Guskiewicz1,
  5. Jason P Mihalik1,3
  1. 1Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
  2. 2Curriculum in Human Movement Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA
  3. 3Injury Prevention Research Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, USA


Objective To examine how baseline measures of psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, and somatization, in college athletes are affected by concussion history.

Design Cross-sectional study.

Setting A National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I university.

Subjects Division I college athletes (age=20.6±1.4 years) with a self-reported history of 1 or more concussions (n=128; 52 (41%) females; 76 (59%) males) and with no self-reported concussion history (n=286; 100 (35%) females; 186 (65%) males). An additional 67 student-athletes were excluded due to incomplete demographic information.

Intervention Athletes self-reported concussion history on a questionnaire completed during pre-season baseline testing.

Outcome measures All participants completed the Brief Symptom Inventory18 (BSI-18) during the same pre-season baseline assessment.

Results There were no significant differences in total BSI-18 scores (P=0.47) between participants with a concussion history (median BSI-18 score=0, IQR=0–2) and those with no concussion history (median BSI-18 score=0, IQR=0–3). Additionally, there were no significant differences found between groups for any BSI-18 subset score (Depression: P=0.99; Anxiety: P=0.53, Somatization: P=0.07).

Conclusions A history of 1 or more concussions does not influence baseline psychological distress measures in college athletes. While associations between concussion history and increased risk of clinical depression in retired professional athletes have been reported, our data do not support this association at the college level. Our results may underscore the need to develop more sensitive questionnaires to assess psychological distress among otherwise young healthy emerging adults. Future research should explore more diverse samples, and explore the utility of psychological distress measures during post-injury recovery.

Competing interests None.

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