Burn Injury as a Child Linked to Prolonged Risk of Depression, Suicide: Study

Adults who experienced a severe burn in childhood may be more likely to suffer severe depression and have suicidal thoughts, according to the findings of new research.  

In a study published in the medical journal Burns, researchers found that children hospitalized with severe burns were more likely to experience prolonged episodes of depression as adults, and also had a higher suicide level than expected.

Researchers from the Center for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide studied data involving nearly 300 adults hospitalized for childhood burns between 1980 and 1990. Structured interviews were conducted, along with self-reported questionnaires assessing participants of psychiatric outcomes.

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Childhood burns were associated with higher likelihoods of having lifetime prevalences of other psychiatric disorders or disturbances. More than 42% experienced disturbances of any type of disorder, 30% experienced depressive disorders, 28% experienced anxiety disorders and 11% attempted suicide at some time since the burn.

Long-Term Treatment of Childhood Burns

The findings of the study may have important implications for the treatment of childhood burn victims. Researchers indicated that all patients who experience traumatic burns may benefit from receiving long-term followup, beyond the standard medical attention received after suffering the burn.

“High rates of suicidality and depression were concerning in adults with a history of childhood burns,” said Dr. Miranda van hoof, lead author of the study. “Factors found to predict psychiatric outcomes could be used to direct interventions and further research is needed to establish how this could best be done.”

The study also suggested that female gender, single relationship status, higher level of disfigurement, longer hospital stays and higher number of burn-related surgeries were associated with adverse psychiatric outcomes.

The study found 58% of the burns were caused by scalds. Seventeen percent of participants suffered flame burns. The extent of burn to the survivor’s bodies ranged from one percent up to 80% of the body.

Many of the participants did not directly link suffering childhood burns with their current emotional conditions. Most indicated to the researchers that it was some other traumatic event in life, not the burn event, which caused them to suffer from emotional or depressive disorders.

Half the participants indicated in the surveys that their personal distress was not related to their burns, yet they were more likely than others to experience emotional disturbances, have higher rates of attempted suicide and depression.

Researchers speculate experiencing a traumatic burn as a child may make the participants have a heightened sensitivity to trauma. They propose that memory of the initial traumatic burn incident makes them more susceptible to mental trauma or the negative effects of further trauma.


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