Suicide Is Top Cause of Deaths Tied to Traumatic Brain Injury

DEATHS TIED TO traumatic brain injuries have risen amid higher rates of suicides and accidental falls in the U.S., a new analysis says.

Every year, millions of people are hospitalized or go to the ER for traumatic brain injuries, which are usually caused by violent blows to the head and can lead to death or disability. There were 61,131 TBI-linked deaths in 2017 alone, and nearly half of these deaths were by suicide or homicide from 2015 to 2017, according to the study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report details an alarming uptick in TBI-related suicides, the vast majority of which were by gun. During 2009 to 2011, suicides and accidental falls surpassed car accidents as the leading causes of TBI-linked death in the U.S., with these rates rising through the end of the study period in 2017. The shift was driven in part by a 32% uptick in suicides among whites, with researchers also noting a falling number of car crash deaths in recent years.

“Reducing access to lethal means among persons at risk for suicide is an important approach to creating protective environments,” researchers said.

Overall, the TBI-related mortality rate remained level between 2000 and 2005, fell significantly from 2005 to 2010 and then flattened from 2010 to 2014. From 2014 to 2017, the TBI-linked death rate rose from 16.3 to 17.5 per 100,000 people, marking a “small but statistically significant increase,” researchers said. Across all years and causes, meanwhile, accidental traumatic brain injuries contributed to more deaths than suicides and homicides together.

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In general, TBI-linked mortality rates were significantly higher among males and American Indians or Alaska Natives, the study found. American Indians or Alaska Natives were more likely to die from a TBI-linked injury stemming from a car crash, while black Americans were disproportionately affected by TBI-related homicides and accidental falls were the top cause of TBI-linked deaths among Hispanics in recent years.

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