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Research Suggests Mental Illness May Be Caused by Early Exposure to Contact Sports

Bruce Parkman, along with his family, are the founders of the Mac Parkman Foundation for Adolescent Concussive Trauma. Their personal story about the loss of their 17-year-old son by suicide, inspired them to spread awareness about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the dangers of early-age, contact-sports participation and mental illness.

Bruce recalls, “Our Journey started on Sept. 26 of 2020, when our son posted a video saying that he was going to end his life…That he had been suffering from major depression, schizophrenia. All which were unknown to us. We frantically searched for him. He was found the next day. Our son had run. Run. Off a 100-foot rock. Leaving us with many, many questions and no answers.

…The Coroner that handled our son’s autopsy, took a class on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)…and asked me a question about ‘Did my son have concussions?’ I said, yeah about three. Three different sports—seasons– and he said, ‘Well, you might want to check into that?’

And thus, began a journey of talking to people, learning about what CTE was. Does it affect kids? Our son ended up at the Boston University Brain Bank, managed by the Concussion Legacy Foundation with all the NFL players up there.

He lived! He lived! He was loved. Why wasn’t he here?”

Listen to the complete episode with host Bruce Parkman on the Kid’s Brains Matter Podcast.

The Mission of The Foundation for Adolescent Concussive Trauma (FACT):

The foundation’s message is very clear: To inform parents about the risks of contact sports during an age period where the child’s brain is still developing. Parkman emphasized that, “We must wait until kids’ brains are ready to handle the trauma of contact sports.”

Mental illness: A result from early age contact sport injuries

Through FACT partnerships, their knowledge and understanding about brain research and the relationships between age, length of time in sports, sports brain trauma and mental illness has grown immensely.

Parkman says, “As the podcast series unwinds and we start talking about sub-concussive trauma and concussive trauma in the brain, what is important to understand for all of us, is that our kids’ brains are developing.”

Delay contact sports during critical brain development years

Parkman reflected on his son’s sports journey. “Our son started playing sports at the age of six,” he recalled. “He wanted to wrestle…then he wanted to play football…then he skied and snowboarded…”

The constant sports schedule that Mac endured during his youth is something he wishes that he could change. “It’s not the concussions that took our son, it was his lifestyle…He had a month-and-a-half off a year to rest his brain…” he solemnly remembers.

The Foundation’s advice to parents

The Parkman family is devastated and doesn’t want another family to suffer as they have. Parkman’s appeal is deeply painful, but hopeful that the Foundation will make a difference. “I am asking that you listen to me and my family because you don’t want to be here…If my son would have picked one other sport or not played one sport, he’d be here. The message is, just wait! Let them enjoy life as a child…One football season. No back to back.”

There will be valuable interviews and information for parents and caregivers with experts in the field of sports, brain development, and concussions. Parkman hopes “to talk about what we need to do to change our societal look at contact sports in children…Contact sports are great. It’s America! But, not for kids.”

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