PTSD in Children can linger for years, but Parents may not recognize it.
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident of any kind, it’s important that you understand how it can affect both yourself and your children.
If you and your children have been involved in a traumatic event such as a car accident, then it is important to remember that they could have PTSD. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can persist for days, weeks, months and even years, per a recent study conducted in the United Kingdom.
“What these results stress I think is that we need to take the reactions of young children to these sorts of events seriously – their reactions can persist for years in some cases,” lead author Dr. Richard Meiser-Stedman of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School told Reuters Health by email.
He stated that in children that were aged eight years and older, as many as 10 to 30 percent involved in motor vehicle accidents had experienced PTSD.
The researchers studied 71 families of children ages 2 to 10 and their parents or caregivers who went to an emergency department after a motor vehicle collision in 2004 or 2005. Families had post-trauma assessments two to four weeks after the accident, six months later, and again three years later.
Of the children who participated in the study, over half had been inside the vehicle, the remaining children were pedestrians involved in a motor vehicle accident. Thirty percent of the children had no injuries; sixty-five percent had minor soft tissue injuries, and seven percent had broken bones. Four of the children in the study had lost consciousness during the accident and eleven had been admitted to the hospital for treatment.
Many of the children involved in the study that showed signs of stress after their accidents didn’t go on to develop any form of PTSD. However, almost 17% of the children in the study met the pediatric criteria for PTSD after three years. It was common for the parents involved in the accidents to be suffering themselves, with the children’s signs of PTSD going unnoticed.
“Parents may not spot the signs of PTSD for the same reasons that parents may miss many mental health difficulties, particularly emotional disorders like anxiety and depression,” Meiser-Stedman said. “Poor mental health may often be a very private experience, and children find it difficult to describe their thoughts and feelings.”
Parents with post-traumatic stress symptoms at the beginning of the study more often had children with post-traumatic stress symptoms, even three years later, researchers reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
The children’s age, intelligence and trauma severity were not directly tied to their chances of having PTSD three years after the accident.
“It’s rare that really young children are studied after a potential trauma, let alone followed over time. Most studies focus on the first year after something happened,” said Eva Alisic of the Trauma Recovery Lab at Monash University in Australia, who was not part of the study. “This study shows that even three years down the track, some children still struggle.”
We should support parents as well as children after a motor vehicle collision, and should aim to use more than parents’ reports when assessing a child’s wellbeing, Alisic told Reuters Health by email.
“What this study has shown is that a significant minority of young children can develop PTSD after ‘one-off’ traumas, and that this reaction for years can persist in some,” Meiser-Stedman said. “There’s no evidence to suggest that young children are somehow ‘immune’ to developing PTSD because of their age.”
In many young children, the symptoms of PTSD can include diminished interest in significant activities and social withdrawal.
Diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in members of the same family can be quite disjointed, he said. “I think the data from this study suggests that assessment and treatment could benefit from addressing the whole family unit.”