Psychological Effects of Repeated Concussions in Athletes

Mar 23, 2023 | Mental Health

Athletes are especially susceptible to head trauma in the form of concussions. Many male-centered sports, like football and hockey, involve a significant amount of physicality that can result in concussions of all kinds. While all types of head trauma are serious, repeated exposure to this trauma can cause a whole host of problems.

The brain can be a difficult organ to understand. It’s complex and full of billions of neurons that are responsible for relaying information throughout your body. The brain is also in charge of telling your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and every other function you perform without actually thinking about it. To make matters more complicated, trauma can cause damage over time that may not be immediately noticeable, even when it causes behavioral changes or memory loss. This means that some athletes may not realize they have been affected until years after their last concussion.

What Is A Concussion?

A concussion is a type of injury to the brain that can have lasting effects. Many athletes experience concussions during their time of active playing. Certain sports, like football, involve heavy amounts of physical interaction that can cause repeated injuries to the brain. A brain injury can cause long-term mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. In addition to this, if an athlete continues playing with their injuries, they may end up suffering from permanent physical health issues such as hearing loss or vision impairment.

Short-Term Effects Of Concussions

The effects of a concussion can have an immediate onset or they can be delayed by a few hours. Either way, anyone that experiences a concussion can expect uncomfortable symptoms shortly following. The symptoms often include headache, dizziness, and nausea. 

The psychological effects are the ones that are most concerning and stand to cause the most damage. Concussions can cause drastic mood swings, suicidal ideation, rage, a-typical behavior, and paranoia. These effects can be dangerous if left unattended to. 

Following a concussion, it is recommended that the athlete rests for seven to ten days, with no physical activity that could risk an additional hit to the head. This can be problematic for those that play professional or college sports, as their livelihood may rely on it or they may want to continue playing despite their injury.

Long-Term Effects Of Concussions

The long-term effects of a concussion aren’t nearly as common as the short-term, fortunately. Taking a hit to the head can lead to traumatic brain injury, regardless of how severe the hit was. If left untreated, TBI can lead to negative, long-term effects such as memory loss, increased risk of dementia, and cognitive deficiencies. 

In addition, some people who have had long-term concussion effects notice a shift in their personalities. Athletes that were previously even-keeled or calm can become angry or aggressive. For anyone that has suffered a head injury and notices any of these long-term symptoms, you’ll need to get them checked out immediately. Seeing a medical professional right away is the best course of action in order to avoid possible lifelong effects.

What Is CTE?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain condition that is ultimately caused by repeated head trauma. It’s not a mental illness, nor is it a disease that can be cured. There are some people who have had CTE for decades and still function normally as far as we know. They might start noticing the onset of symptoms later in life, but they could live with those symptoms for years before they get worse. 

The symptoms of CTE include numbness, impaired judgment, and depression. These symptoms can be debilitating and cause the person to become withdrawn from family and society in general. They may also suffer from suicidal ideation, memory loss, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

CTE has been linked to repeated concussions, but it has been established that it is not a linear relationship. Some athletes that have developed this brain injury did not have any record of concussions. Instead, they suffered from repeated hits to the head to a lesser degree. These are known as subconcussive hits and can cause just as much damage as a single concussion. This is concerning for all athletes that play their sport for extended periods of time. For football players, in particular, their risk of developing CTE increases each year that they play the sport.

One huge problem with CTE is that the symptoms are often only detectable after death. CTE symptoms are not always present in the early stages of brain injury, and they can be subtle at the beginning. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to detect and diagnose. Furthermore, once a person has died, and their brain is examined for signs of CTE, there may still be some misinterpretations. There is not an extensive amount of knowledge regarding CTE, and doctors are continuing to learn more about this concerning problem.

CTE In Athletes

The first CTE case discovered in a professional athlete was through Mike Webster, an NFL player. His death in 2002 was a turning point for doctors as far as understanding the harmful effects of tackle football. Since then, hundreds of athletes have been diagnosed with this brain injury following their death. 

Many of the athletes that suffered from CTE died by suicide, which speaks to the level of psychological damage that is inflicted on the brain. Some athletes have killed others alongside themselves as well. This massive shift in personality and lack of control stands to show that their brain chemistry is altered drastically as a result of CTE.

The NFL is the professional sports league that has been shown to have the largest number of CTE cases, but there are other sports that have also had many athletes suffer from this TBI. Boxing, hockey, and soccer are just a few of the other sports known to have a significant amount of CTE cases. The common denominator between them all is trauma to the head by way of falling or colliding with others. 

What Is The Treatment Like?

Treatment for CTE simply does not exist at this point. The only way to avoid this potentially life-threatening brain injury is by avoiding repeated hits to the head. For athletes, this can be challenging to do. Making sure to always wear proper head protection is one way to decrease the risk of repeated concussions. Additionally, avoiding any risky activities outside of playing sports is another way to prevent further damage. 

Recently, the NFL has been researching and implementing new techniques to help protect the heads of their players. However, with other sports like boxing, this is not an option. Engaging in any sport that involves others is risky behavior, especially when done for extended periods of time.

Repeated concussions can cause quite a bit of psychological harm to athletes. Because of this, it is important to take proper precautions and be on the lookout for potential symptoms of both concussions and CTE. Catching a TBI before it has the chance to become degenerative is essential to maintaining a high quality of life.

Therapy Can Help!

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, New Dimensions can help.  To learn more about our treatment programs contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at  You can also learn about other outpatient therapy services at