Serious Childhood Burns Tied to Long-Term Mental Health Risks

THURSDAY Sept. 4, 2014, 2014 -- Adult survivors of childhood burns are at increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, a new Australian study finds.

"This research demonstrates that being hospitalized for a burn during childhood places that child in an increased risk group. They require further, long-term follow-up beyond the medical attention received for their burns," Dr. Miranda van Hooff, research manager at the Center for Traumatic Stress Studies, University of Adelaide, said in a university news release.

"Some of these results are concerning, particularly the rates of prolonged episodes of depression and suicide attempts, which are at a level higher than you would expect to find in the general population," she said.

The research included almost 300 people in Australia who were hospitalized for burns between 1980 and 1990. Scalds caused 58 percent of the burns, and 17 percent were flame burns. The extent of the burns ranged from 1 percent to 80 percent of the survivors' bodies.

The researchers found that 42 percent of the participants had experienced some type of mental illness, 30 percent had suffered depression and 11 percent had attempted suicide, according to the study published recently in the journal Burns.

The researchers also discovered that many people in the study did not directly link their childhood burns with their current emotional health.

"We found that it's not often the burn itself that has affected people but some other lifetime traumatic event. Half of the participants stated clearly in the survey that their personal distress was not related to their burns," van Hooff said.

"Our centre's work on the victims of Australia's Ash Wednesday bushfires has shown that many people affected by such a tragedy develop a heightened sensitivity to trauma. We suspect that this may be the same among the childhood burn victims, so that while the memory of the burn itself may have faded with time, they have become more susceptible to mental trauma or the negative effects of additional trauma," she explained.

"Our main concern is in ensuring that this group of people receives the long-term follow up and care they need, because they are at increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts," van Hooff concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about burns.

Posted: September 2014


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