When parents are injured,
children may get PTSD
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[June 05, 2014]
By Ronnie Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -
Children are susceptible to developing symptoms of
post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, when their
parents are seriously injured, a new study suggests.
Researchers studied 175 pairs of parents and school-age children
seen at a Seattle trauma center. They found that uninjured children
whose parents were seriously hurt were twice as likely to experience
PTSD symptoms months later as those whose parents were uninjured.
“If the parent is injured, the child is more likely to have more
anxiety in five months,” psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Zatzick told
Reuters Health. “We hope to incorporate psychological support
services that allow us to anticipate the difficulties that families
face in the wake of injury.”
Motor vehicle crashes were the primary cause of injury when both the
parent and child were seriously hurt. Other injuries were caused by
burns or falls, for instance.
About 20 percent of uninjured children whose parents were injured
reported symptoms of PTSD five months later, compared to 10 percent
of uninjured children whose parents were also unhurt, according to
findings published in Pediatrics. The difference shrunk after a
Zatzick and his colleagues at the University of Washington School of
Medicine in Seattle also found that injured children tended to
recover more slowly physically and emotionally if their parents were
also injured than children whose parents were not seriously hurt.
Prior research has shown that when parents become ill with diseases
such as HIV and cancer, their children are more at risk for
emotional distress, substance abuse and risky sexual behavior, the
authors write. Injuries parents sustain in combat can also have
psychological effects on their children.
Another study found that children of mothers with PTSD had a higher
risk of being traumatized themselves (see Reuters Health story of
September 12, 2013 here: http://reut.rs/1iSEILM).
The current study is the first to examine the effect of a parent’s
injury outside a war zone on an uninjured child. The authors said
they were concerned but not surprised to find that a civilian
parent’s injury might stress a child.
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Nancy Kassam-Adams, a psychologist who directs the Center for
Pediatric Traumatic Stress at The Children’s Hospital of
Philadelphia, said she was surprised that the prevalence of PTSD in
uninjured children with injured parents surpassed that of children
who were injured themselves.
Kassam-Adams was not involved in the current study but researches
PTSD in injured children and their parents.
She told Reuters Health she would like parents and doctors to
consider the findings and reach out to see if the children of
injured parents need counseling or other help.
“What this tells me is that when parents are injured they need to be
cognizant of children’s reactions. A physician seeing an adult
injured patient might ask how the rest of the family is doing and
might suggest to the patient, ‘You might want to take that up with
your school’s teacher or nurse,’” she said.
“These are simple things that any physician can do,” she said. “They
can open a door, and even that is helpful.”
Pediatrics, online June 2, 2014.
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