Students form group to raise concussion awareness
By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer
Students have created a club to raise awareness about concussions and provide support to their peers who are coping with the long-term effects of brain trauma.
“Our goal is to break the stigma that concussions are only an in-the-moment injury. The impact of concussions can go beyond that,” says Stephanie Nanos (Artsci’16), co-president of the Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee. “We want to act as a support system for people who want to talk about what they have been through.”
Ms. Nanos and fellow co-president Julia Hamer (Artsci'15) were spurred into action because of their concussion experiences. Ms. Nanos found her personality changed after suffering a concussion in secondary school. She struggled with her school work, which she dismissed as normal for a teenager juggling competing priorities. In her Grade 12 year, though, she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, conditions that were eventually linked to her concussion history.
“I did a lot of tests and found that the concussion had permanently changed my biochemistry, impacting my dopamine and serotonin levels,” she says. “All of these things started making sense and it bugged me that these connections were not made until two years later. I had been attributing it all to myself when it had been this internal factor.”
The concussion forced Ms. Nanos to readjust her entire life. Her medical condition derailed her plan to play varsity at Queen’s. She signed up for classroom accommodations through the Disability Services Office and began taking a lighter course load. Her goal of finishing university in four years and heading straight to law school started to crumble.
“That’s scary. It’s not what I planned but I didn’t have any control over it,” she says. “Giving up that control is a big problem for a lot of people and can be a contributing factor to the link between concussions and mental health issues.
“It’s hard especially for athletes because when your sport is taken away from you not by choice, your identity is lost,” she adds. “I came to university and thought I was going to play the sport I love and have this group of friends. I didn’t know who I was.”
The committee aims to develop a support system to help students who are going through similar experiences as Ms. Nanos. She says the service would be like the Peer Support Centre whereby students could meet with trained student volunteers who have experienced a concussion or know someone who has.
The committee is also striving to make connections with varsity athletes because they face a higher risk of concussions. The members have talked with the current and incoming Varsity Leadership Council about the possibility of holding student workshops in the fall. “It might make it easier for student athletes to talk about it after they have heard from someone and put a face to the injury,” Ms. Nanos says.
The committee, which is supported by The Jack Project, has organized its first major event. Kerry Goulet, co-founder of the Stop Concussions Foundation, is the keynote speaker. Sebastian Gorlewski, director of the Peer Support Centre and a former varsity athlete, will speak about the connections between concussions and mental health. Queen’s cyclist Sarah-Louise Ruder will share her story about the ways in which concussions made her re-evaluate her life and ultimately gave her a more positive outlook. Dr. Michael O’Connor, the sports medicine physician who works with Queen’s varsity and club athletes, will also speak at the event.
The event takes place at the Common Ground in the Queen’s Centre on Wednesday, March 19 at 7 pm. More information about the Queen’s Concussion Awareness Committee.