Childhood Burn Survivors Suffer Higher Rates of Depression, Suicidal Thoughts

Adults who were hospitalized for a burn as a child experience higher than usual rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, according to a new Australian study.

A 30-year follow-up study of childhood burn victims by researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies found that 42 percent had suffered some form of mental illness, while 30 percent suffered depression at some stage in their lives.

The study, published in the journal Burns, also found that 11 percent had attempted suicide.

“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,” said psychologist Dr. Miranda van Hooff of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies.

“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.”

The researchers surveyed 272 people who were hospitalized for burns while children between 1980 and 1990. Scalds accounted for 58 percent of the burns, while 17 percent were flame burns, according to the researchers. The severity of the burns ranged from one percent to 80 percent of their bodies.

Although the burns are an important factor in these cases, many people surveyed did not directly link the burn with their current emotional well-being, according to van Hooff.

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

She noted that the center’s work with victims of Australia’s Ash Wednesday bush fires found that many people affected by the tragedy develop a heightened sensitivity to trauma.

“We suspect that this may be the same among the childhood burn victims,” she explained. “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.”

The researcher said her 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.”

Source: University of Adelaide


Young boy with a burn photo by shutterstock.