A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows that young males who were treated for violence-related injuries in an urban pediatric emergency department (ED) overwhelmingly identified a need for mental health services, including therapy and suicide counseling.
The research was conducted through the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
“Assault victims describe feeling constantly tense and ‘on guard,’ and having nightmares or unwanted flashbacks of the assault. Unfortunately, many youth also begin to avoid talking about the event or avoiding the places or people that remind them of the assault — school, friends, normal adolescent activities,” said lead study author Rachel Myers, Ph.D., research scientist at CHOP Myers.
“It shows us that just treating the external wounds is not enough. Young men not only need, but want help to cope with their fears and difficult emotions in the aftermath of injury.”
For the study, researchers looked at data from 49 adolescent males who were treated at CHOP’s ED between January 2012 and August 2016 after suffering a violence-related injury, typically from peer assaults, and elected to enroll in VIP.
Participants, predominantly young minority males between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, identified their needs and goals for recovery at intake and during the course of their participation in case management.
VIP services include comprehensive assessment, support navigating services such as medical, legal, and education, peer-facilitated group therapy, and trauma-informed mental health therapy. Recovery goals are developed in partnership with the youth and their families.
At VIP intake, nearly two-thirds of the adolescents reported significant traumatic stress symptoms. Most (75 percent) of the injuries were non-penetrating.
Nearly 90 percent of the young men felt they needed mental health services, including therapy and suicide counseling. About 60 percent said they needed legal help, including obtaining police reports. Around 56 percent also identified a need for psychosocial support, and said they would attend peer group sessions with other injured youth.
Adolescents treated and discharged from the ED were significantly more likely to identify safety needs, such as addressing peer relationships in school and community, compared to those admitted to the hospital, who may have experienced more serious injuries.
The researchers say they are seeing more violently-injured youth in CHOP’s ED each year, with 150 youths since the first of January who would qualify for VIP’s direct case work.
“We know that it is vitally important to listen to the voices and needs of youth,”said Myers.
“This work highlights how adolescent males receiving care in the ED with what may be physically minor injuries are suffering significant trauma. We also know that with real support, young people are resilient, go back to school, and go on to graduate and pursue their goals.”