A world-first study of retired rugby league players has found there is no link which can be made between concussions and the risk of depression.
Head and neck safety of players has become a major talking point in the sport over the last five or so years, with that elevated again in 2021.
The high tackle crackdown saw the NRL look to stamp out any and all contract above the shoulders, with multiple players sin binned and sent off, and suspensions at a level which the competition has never seen before.
While that dropped off towards the end of the years, the suspensions continued with the NRL desperate to preserve their own image and stamp out the threat of future legal action as has been seen in some American sporting competitions over head knocks.
The high tackle rules won't be changing anytime soon, however, a study published in Frontiers in Neurology and sited by the Sydney Morning Herald suggests 133 first-grade rugby league players who played at the top level in Australia were studied.
It found that, despite a median 15 concussions per individual being sustained, only 29 per cent suffered from some form of depression and that there was no link which could be drawn between the disorder and their concussion history.
Doctor Andrew Gardner from the University of Newcastle was one of the co-authors on the paper and told the publication that there was no link.
“We didn’t find the link between [depression and] the self-reported concussions, which we need to be cautious of in our interpretation because self-reported concussions are not extremely reliable – but that’s the best way we can do it because it’s never been medically recorded until more recently,” Dr Gardner said.
“We also didn’t find that the age of first concussion – which has been pushed as a big narrative – [we didn’t find a relationship] between age of first exposure or age of first concussion and depression.
“We also didn’t find a relationship between the years of playing, the length of their career and depression.”
The study ran for over eight years before determining results.