In the final Instagram video before her apparent suicide last week, Shannon Spruill – better known to the wrestling world as Daffney – requested that her brain be donated “to Boston,” which presumably referred to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which is located in that city.

Founded by former football player and WWE superstar Chris Nowinski and Dr. Robert Cantu – a leading medical expert on concussions, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and catastrophic sports injuries – the CLF has made its mission to support veterans, athletes, and anyone suffering from CTE through prevention and research.

While the official cause of Spruill’s death has not been reported, based on the content of the video and subsequent unconfirmed reports about the condition of her body at the scene, it is believed that Spruill committed suicide by a self-inflicted gun shot to the chest.

In the video, Spruill appeared to express concerns that she suffered from CTE caused by concussions and head traumas suffered during her in-ring career.

“I don’t want to do anything to hurt my brain,” she said in the video. “I want it to be studied. I want the future generations to know: Don’t do stupid s–t like me.”

A promotional 8×10 of Daffney.

While no official conclusions have been reached as to the cause of her death, including the contributory factors, did reach out to gain the insights from Dr. Cantu to shed some light on the links between CTE and suicide in hopes that further tragedies like this can be prevented where possible.

“It is true that the incidents of suicide is higher in people that have had concussions than in people that have not had concussions,” explained Dr. Cantu. “It is (also) true that the incidents of suicide in (people who have had) CTE is higher than the incidents of suicide in people that have not had CTE or  have not had repetitive head traumas.”

Dr. Robert Cantu. Photo: CLF website

He cited research that notes that after concussions, the likelihood of suicide is elevated to nearly double the rates of people who have not suffered concussions.

“But on the other side of the coin,” he clarified, “99% of people with concussions do not wind up as suicides. So, the number of incidents in an absolute way is not very much higher.”

As to whether CTE can actually cause suicidal tendencies, Dr. Cantu noted that there have been no definitive medical links.

“There’s no question that (we have seen) a number of very high-profile people that have died by suicide. In our center, tragically quite a number of the military veterans and quite a number of the athletes come to us because of suicide. But we don’t yet know if there is a direct link between the CTE pathology in the brain and the suicide.”

Rather, he notes that the emotional difficulties caused by the CTE are likely contributory causes, and perhaps exacerbate the suicidal ideation to the point that it is acted upon.

“(There are) tremendous emotional difficulties these people (with CTE) are putting up with.  Because of changes in their ability to concentrate and remember things, changes in their ability to not handle frustrating circumstances (causing them to) act impulsively, and also the increased incidents of depression and anxiety in people with CTE. It’s not clear whether it’s the pathology itself or the terrible changes in lifestyle that these people are undergoing that leads to the suicidal behavior.”

He also cited other possible contributory causes. “(Another contributory cause could be) drug addiction – many of these suicides are mixed up with narcotics or other drugs. And certainly in some cases it’s been very clearly shown that if people have had emotional issues earlier in their life, they have only been aggravated by the repetitive head trauma that they’ve taken and the CTE they’ve developed.”

The most significant message that Dr. Cantu stressed is that – regardless of whether or not someone suffers from CTE or not – any time someone has suicidal thoughts and/or expresses them to others, they should seek help.

“Suicide is preventable,” he stressed. “It’s terribly important for people who are aware of individuals that are having suicidal ideation that they get to professionals that can help them. Connect them with crisis suicide prevention helplines, so they can be talked to by people who can talk them out of an acute crisis and get them to help. Because it is preventable. That isn’t to say that there won’t be another crisis down the road. But more likely than not that can be avoided and proper treatment started.”

In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Canada, Crisis Services Canada will take your call at 1.833.456.4566 or Text 45645.