On February 17, 2011 Chicago Bear football great Dave Duerson killed himself after a painful struggle with neurodegenerative disease stemming from concussive syndrome. More recently, San Diego defensive football legend Junior Seau did the same. Junior received and administered many hard hits during his years on the gridiron. Still, the interplay between injury and suicide is not fully yet understood.

In 2007 suicide ranked 10th as a cause of death in the U.S. with over 34,500 dying from self- inflicted causes that year. For persons with a traumatic brain injury, the risk of death by suicide jumped fourfold. The best evidence of cause of death in these cases may be the brain itself.

After donating his brain to science, Boston University researchers confirmed that Mr. Duerson did indeed suffer from severe traumatic brain injury. Now, the family of Junior Seau is also considering a brain autopsy to clarify the role of traumatic head injury in Junior’s death.

One thing is clear… traumatic brain injury plays a greater role in suicide than once thought. More studies will bring more clues. In the meantime, protect your head and avoid head hitting activities.