Updated 05 September 2014

Childhood burn victims at increased risk of depression

Those injured by fire during childhood are at increased odds of prolonged periods of depression and suicide attempts during adulthood due to heightened sensitivity to trauma.


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

Long-term follow-up

"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 Centre 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 hospitalised 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.

Read: Kids with head injuries prone to depression

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 bush fires 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.

Read more:
Depression and suicide: risk in SA
Pre-schoolers can also suffer from depression
Adult kids of substance abusers prone to depression

Image: Burning injuries on hand from Shutterstock

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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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