Westmoreland panel to discuss concussions and student mental health
An athlete who breaks a limb likely will be fitted with a cast that makes recovery visible to all. Getting past the lingering effects of a concussion or other traumatic brain injuries often doesn’t include a prop that makes the process as outwardly apparent.
“A brain injury is a silent, invisible disability,” said Natalie Smith, team leader for Westmoreland Intermediate Unit’s BrainSTEPS (Strategies Teaching Educators, Parents and Students) program.
In an effort to throw some light on the subject, Smith is accepting reservations for “Understanding the Effects of Concussions on Mental Health,” a panel discussion set for 1-3 p.m. Wednesday at the intermediate unit offices in Hempfield.
The panel, which includes a traumatic brain injury survivor and sports medicine concussion expert, will discuss ways of providing support to “children and adolescents who have had concussions and are experiencing worsening or new mental health needs because of pre-existing mental health problems, improper concussion management or changes in social activity.”
BrainSTEPS teams, which include medical and educational professionals, create individualized plans to help students who have suffered a brain injury re-enter the classroom. Such plans may include alternative tests for students who have difficulty with their short-term memory or with learning new information, Smith said.
Over the past eight years, about 125 students have been referred to the BrainSTEPS program in Westmoreland County.
According to the Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania, children in the state suffer approximately 22,000 concussions each year. Smith noted that figure is a low estimate, based solely on emergency room visits. It doesn’t include children who may be seen at an urgent care center or by a family physician.
Researchers continue working to understand more about the interplay between concussions and mental health, Smith said.
“I have seen kids who have had a third or fourth concussion who play soccer or rugby and just seem to bounce back,” she said. “Another student may have one concussion and may struggle for years. It’s a very individual disorder, which makes research difficult.”
Fortunately, the majority of students who suffer a concussion recover without the assistance of Smith’s team.
Those with questions about the panel discussion or BrainSTEPS may contact Smith at [email protected]
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .