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St. Michael’s Hospital creating psychiatric education, awareness program for athletes with concussions; details to be discussed at conference Saturday

Toronto, September 6, 2012

By Leslie Shepherd

A psychiatrist at St. Michael’s Hospital is creating a psychiatric awareness and education program for athletes who have suffered a concussion.

Dr. Shree Bhalerao said that while there is a growing awareness of the physical symptoms of concussions and best ways to treat them, the psychiatric impact can be just as serious as is rarely acknowledged or treated.

The psychiatric aspect of concussions is among the topics to be discussed Saturday at the second annual OuCH! (Outcomes Following Hockey Concussions) conference at St. Michael’s that will focus on the treatment and management of concussions in hockey.

The goal of the conference, hosted by Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and director of the hospital’s Injury Prevention Research Centre, is to educate the public about the growing number of concussions being sustained by young hockey players, and the recovery process, including how and when they can return to playing and to school.

About 15,000 to 20,000 children and youth suffer a concussion in hockey in a year, although experts say the number is probably much higher because many concussions are not diagnosed or reported.

"Psychiatric symptoms can appear months after the injury, and can include changes to a player’s energy, eating, sleep patterns and enjoyment of life, anxiety, a general feeling of disinterest and even drug or alcohol abuse or thoughts of suicide," Dr. Bhalerao said.

"We want to emphasize that cognitive rest, physical rest and return to play policies should take into account psychiatric monitoring. None of the protocols talk about this. We will emphasize that you should use your support networks to let them know that something is wrong."

The psychiatric education program will begin this fall as a pilot project among a few recreational hockey teams in Toronto.

Dr. Bhalerao said the program would consist of three sessions. The first, at the start of the season, would give an overview of psychiatric issues related to concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

The second session, at mid-season, would go into why athletes don’t get help and why there is such an anti-psychiatry movement.

"It would also look at the culture of hockey and issues of masculinity, which may prevent players from getting help," Dr. Bhalerao said.

The third session, during the summer off-season, would emphasize that violence can be more than a hit on the ice – it can also come in the form of bullying, humiliation, racial slurs or even sexual abuse.

"The intention is to demystify the psychiatric assessment and make them more comfortable in approaching others for help," he said.

Other speakers at Saturday’s conference will include:

  • Barbara Csenge, the director of learning enrichment at St. Michael’s College School, who developed the Return to Learn program, which helps students reintegrate academically after suffering a brain injury
  • Dr. Blaine Hoshizaki of the University of Ottawa, who conducts crash-test analyses to establish the relationship between helmet performance and how concussions occur

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Center, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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