Children’s hospital screens for PTSD
Badly injured kids are now being watched for disorder
Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin is now screening the most severely injured children — those who come through the hospital’s trauma center — for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children between the ages of 7 and 17 who show signs of mental or emotional stress because of an accident, wreck or medical mishap also are being offered free counseling, the researchers said. The screening and the counseling, both of which require parent and child permission, are part of a study aimed at predicting which children are likely to suffer PTSD, an ailment more often associated with troops traumatized in battle.
The researchers started enrolling children in November, and as of Friday, 111 had agreed to participate. They hope to enroll 250 participants.
“Once we have a … reliable way of predicting (PTSD), then we can provide a reliable intervention to see if they can be prevented from having PTSD,” said Kevin Stark, a professor in the department of educational UT professor of educational psychology Researcher at hospital’s trauma center psychology at the University of Texas and director of psychological services at the Texas Child Study Center, a collaboration between Dell Children’s and UT. “The reason that is important is because PTSD, once it develops, becomes a chronic, lifelong disorder.”
The hospital’s trauma center sees about 1,000 patients a year and estimates that 8 to 30 percent may experience PTSD in a year, spokeswoman Matilda Sanchez said.
Children with PTSD may experience many emotional and behavioral problems, including “disruptive behavior disorders, eating disorders, sexual acting out, other risktaking activities, depression, the full range of anxiety disorders, dissociation, mood lability (swings), violence and difficulty concentrating,” according to a 2008 article by Dr. Roy Lubit, a faculty member at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and New York University School of Medicine.
Stark and co-researcher Karla Lawson, a research scientist at Dell Children’s trauma center, said other work on PTSD in injured children has identified factors that will help them in their study.
For example, enrolled children will be asked whether they were alone at the time of the accident, whether they experienced a lot of pain and whether they thought they were going to die. Children who answer yes to such questions are believed to face a higher risk of PTSD, Stark and Lawson said.
The study is excluding children with severe brain injuries.
Not all of the children enrolled in the study have PTSD, nor do all require treatment, Stark said.
“We call them at six weeks to check to see if the child is doing OK, and if they’re not, they would move into treatment,” he said. Some might need it sooner, especially if they were in an accident that killed a parent or sibling.
UT graduate students are enrolling patients seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m., Lawson said.
Families have been eager to participate, Lawson said.
“It exceeded expectations,” she said. “I think it’s going very, very well.”