Kelly Catlin’s Family Say Concussion Months Before Suicide Changed Her: She Felt ‘Trapped’
Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin died by suicide Friday, months after suffering a concussion during a race
The family of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin say a devastating concussion several months ago may have sparked the symptoms that eventually lead to her apparent suicide.
Catlin, who helped the U.S. women’s pursuit team win the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, died Friday after she was found in her Stanford University dorm room in California. She was 23.
The athlete’s father Mark Catlin told PEOPLE that Kelly’s attitude and behavior took a drastic turn in December, when she suffered a concussion during a cycling race.
Following the injury, Kelly was plagued by various symptoms, including vision problems, severe headaches, and an inability to complete workouts with her team.
“My wife and I talked to her weekly on the phone and she started to express apathy about cycling, which she’d never done before,” Mark said. “She had a lack of enthusiasm for the Olympic team, for training, for everything in life. We were concerned. She ran herself down. The concussion had a profound impact on her. She had these mental issues and she started to feel trapped.”
Her sister Christine, meanwhile, said Kelly attempted to die by suicide in January. She survived, and underwent physical and mental health treatment for about two weeks before returning to school, where she was pursuing a graduate degree in computational mathematics.
Christine told PEOPLE that when she heard from Kelly in an email, her sister wrote that she was having “racing thoughts” and that “her mind wasn’t working the way it used to,” which she thought was Kelly describing her concussion symptoms.
“She described being tortured mentally by not being able to do what she used to do,” said Christine, who was Kelly’s triplet, along with brother Colin.
A concussion is a common word used to describe a mild form of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The injury is common among children age 19 or younger, and between 2001 to 2012, the rate among kids diagnosed with a concussion or TBI from a sports or recreation-related injury more than doubled, according to the CDC.
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Typical symptoms match those Kelly described to her family, like difficulty thinking clearly and concentrating, sensitivity to noise or light, dizziness, headaches, blurry vision and changes in sleep patterns.
A Danish study published in August found that people with traumatic brain injuries may be nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than those without a history of TBI, according to Reuters.
The study also reportedly found that the risk of suicide was highest within the first six months after initial treatment for a brain injury.
“[Kelly] had such a bright future. She was so multi-talented,” Mark told PEOPLE. “There was so much about life that she enjoyed and this was such a temporary setback that she couldn’t see through. It’s such a loss to the world and a loss to her that she’s gonna miss so many good things. She had so much to look forward to. Now it’s not gonna happen.”
Kelly’s family has opted to donate her brain to Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank in order to see if her death was in any way connected to her concussion.
“Our family decided to have a neuropathologic examination performed on Kelly’s brain to investigate any possible damage caused by her recent head injury and seek explanations for recent neurologic symptoms,” Mark said, according to the Washington Post.
The Bank confirmed the donation to PEOPLE, noting that it received the brain on Tuesday.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.