According to researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is now the leading cause of traumatic brain injury deaths, passing automobile accidents for the first time.
In findings published this week in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency evaluated the effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) linked to various types of events.
Traumatic brain injuries result from damage to the head, contributing to a significant number of deaths each year. For individuals who survive a head trauma, TBIs can lead to serious health risks, including life-long disability disability
The CDC analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System over 18 years from 2000 to 2017.
More than 61,000 head injury related deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2017, representing 2% of approximately 2.8 million deaths that occurred that year. Nearly half of the head injury related deaths were caused by intentional injuries, including suicide and homicide.
In the last 10 years of the study, suicide surpassed automobile accidents as the leading category of TBI-related deaths.
Researchers found a 32% increase in suicide deaths linked to violent blows to the head. In nearly 97% of all head injury related suicides, guns were the main cause of injury.
Prior studies have shown blows to the head of any type increase a person’s likelihood of committing suicide. In fact, study after study links concussions to the risk of attempting suicide, especially among military Veterans.
Rates of head injuries remained steady from 2000-2005, dropped some from 2005-2010, then began to increase in 2014. At the same time, increasing rates of head injuries lead to an increase in rates of suicides occurring each year.
While the leading cause of brain injury deaths was suicide, other leading categories of included motor vehicle accidents, unintentional falls, and homicide.
Researchers said reducing access to firearms among persons at risk for suicide is an important approach to creating protective environments. Tailored prevention efforts may also be needed to help reduce TBI risk among different groups.
For example, motorcycle helmet and seat belt laws may help reduce deaths from accidents; whereas doctors can screen patients at risk for suicide and refer them to needed resources.
“Understanding the leading contributors to TBI-related death and identifying groups at increased risk is important in preventing this injury,” wrote study authors. “Health care providers can play an important role in assessing patients at increased risk.”