Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a well-known but widely misunderstood behavioral health issue. It is…
Screening Tool Identifies Youths Likely to Develop Accident-Related PTSD
Recent research from a group of Australian scientists indicates that doctors can use screening procedures to identify teenagers and younger children at risk for developing PTSD in the aftermath of a serious, injury-producing accident.
Exposure to an injury-producing major accident is one of the known potential factors in the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, doctors don’t have a reliable way of determining which adolescents and younger children exposed to traumatic, accidental injury have the highest chances of meeting the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. In a study published in February 2015 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers from five Australian institutions assessed the effectiveness of screening procedures developed for the identification of at-risk populations of teenagers and younger children.
Teens, Children and Accidental Injury
In the U.S. and other countries, common sources of accidental injuries include car crashes and other motor vehicle accidents, falls from high or low places, sports participation, participation in unorganized recreational activities, fire-related or chemical burns, drowning, various forms of poisoning and various forms of suffocation. According to recent figures compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 9 million teenagers, younger children, infants and newborns receive an accidental injury in the U.S. every year. Annually, almost a quarter of a million people in this wide age range require hospitalization for an accidental injury. In addition, in the typical year, between 9,000 and 10,000 teens, younger children, infants and newborns die from an accidental injury.
Teens and children are most likely to sustain an accidental injury as a result of a fall, the CDC notes. Drowning is the most common source of fatal cases of accidental injury. Children and teenagers between the ages of 1 and 14 have roughly equal chances of dying accidentally. Accidental death rates under the age of 20 are lowest in infants and newborns (just 4 percent of all deaths) and highest in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 19 (42 percent of all deaths). For teens and younger children, fatal and non-fatal motor vehicle-related injuries occur most often between the ages of 5 and 19.
Accidental Injury and PTSD
Researchers and public health officials know that exposure to a major or life-threatening accident is one potential route to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. They also know that PTSD risks generally go up in people who receive injuries during potentially traumatizing events or situations. However, relatively little is known about how often accidental injuries actually lead to cases of PTSD (which doctors don’t diagnose until at least 30 days after initial trauma exposure). In a study published in 2008 in the British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that 6 percent of adults who receive severe accidental injuries have apparent PTSD symptoms within two weeks of trauma exposure (i.e., before official diagnosis occurs). The PTSD rate among study participants was 2 percent one year after severe injury exposure; interestingly, the rate spiked to 4 percent three years after severe injury exposure.
Can Doctors Identify At-Risk Teens and Younger Children?
In the study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, researchers from Australia’s University of Southern Queensland, Mater Children’s Hospital, Flinders University and two branches of the University of Queensland used data gathered from 546 teenagers and younger children between the ages of 7 and 16 to help gauge the possibility of identifying individuals in this age range with the highest risks for PTSD in the aftermath of an injury-producing, potentially traumatic accidental injury. Injuries under consideration included burns, wounds sustained during motor vehicle collisions and sports-related injuries. Within one to two weeks of initial injury, the researchers used the Child Trauma Screening Questionnaire—a modified form of an adult screening tool called the Trauma Screening Questionnaire—to assess each participant’s level of PTSD risk.
Just over 17 percent of the study participants received screening scores that indicated an increased chance of eventually qualifying for a PTSD diagnosis. When a much smaller pool of original participants was re-assessed several weeks later, the at-risk rate stood at 38.2 percent. Almost 4 percent of the full 546-person participant group ultimately received a PTSD diagnosis during the study period.
The study’s authors believe their findings demonstrate the usefulness of using the Child Trauma Screening Questionnaire to identify those teenagers and younger children most likely to develop PTSD in the aftermath of exposure to a potentially traumatic accidental injury.