"The profile of these [depressed] athletes seems to be a little different than the average population that has depression," Didehbani said. Instead of the sad and pessimistic feelings that are often associated with depression, the athletes tend to experience symptoms such as fatigue, lack of sex drive and sleep changes.
"Most of the athletes did not realize that those kinds of symptoms were related to depression because, I think, they associated them with the physical pain from playing professional football," she explained. The doctors who treat former football players should let them know that fatigue and sleep problems could be symptoms of depression, she added.
"One good thing is that depression is a treatable illness," Didehbani said. Many athletes with depression with whom Didehbani and her colleagues have worked are benefiting from antidepressants and psychological services, she said.
However, it is not clear from the study whether the concussions were the cause of the depression or if other factors could be to blame.
"It's so hard to say because the injuries were over 20 years ago," Didehbani said. Aging and the transition from the NFL to a new career could also be involved in the athletes developing depression, she added.
Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, said, "It wouldn't surprise me that concussions or brain trauma in general were associated with depression."
However, knowing how many years and which positions the athletes in this study played, instead of just the number of concussions they remember having, would give a better idea of how much head trauma they actually endured, McKee said. "Asking an individual to recall how many concussions they had is notoriously unreliable," she added.
In a second study, the Texas researchers performed advanc
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