When brain injury expert Ian Bermeo started running short lessons in Greater Victoria Grade 12 classrooms this year, he was shocked by how little students knew about the topic.
More than 30 per cent of concussions reported each year are experienced by people aged 10 to 19, but they are one of the least likely demographics to know about the causes, symptoms and long-term impacts of such injuries, a 2016 study from the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found.
It’s not that teens aren’t smart, Bermeo clarified, it’s just that they’ve received no education on the topic.
“Most students seem to think that concussions are a normal part of life, an injury you can easily brush off. But in reality, concussions are dangerous and can cause potentially life-altering, or even life-threatening, problems if not handled appropriately,” he said in a statement.
That’s where the Victoria Brain Injury Society comes in. The group just launched its Student Head Injury Neuro Education program and is hoping to deliver it to as many classrooms and sports teams in the Capital Regional District as possible.
Bermeo, one of the program facilitators, told Black Press Media brain injuries in youth are usually caused by car crashes, work accidents, concussions and, occasionally, substance abuse. Even activities as seemingly harmless as dancing can sometimes cause damage, he said.
“A concussion can happen anywhere. You don’t even need to hit your head, it’s just about quickly rattling the brain. Because the brain isn’t really attached to the cranium, sometimes when our body moves and we stop suddenly, the insides keep going,” Bermeo said.
In other words, it isn’t just rugby and football players who should be aware.
The messaging is especially important for young people, because their brains are still developing, Bermeo said.
“I want them to be armed with knowledge so they can make some sound decisions.”
The long-term effects of even a minor injury can be serious. Victoria Brain Injury Society executive director Pam Prewett said increased anxiety and depression are common, even years after suffering a concussion.
A 2016 report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal following 235,110 patients with concussions found 667 of them committed suicide after 10 years.
On the mild end, symptoms can still be difficult for youth to navigate.
“Your brain is scrambled, for lack of a better term. You’re different, but it’s an invisible disability,” Prewett said.
Long term, the society is hoping to recruit students with lived experience to facilitate peer support and educational sessions.