Firearm injuries traumatize children, saddling them with mental health issues that include stress disorders and drug or alcohol use, according to a new study.
In all, 35% of kids injured by firearms receive a new mental health diagnosis in the following year, the research found.
That compares to a 26% rate of mental health diagnoses that follows a car crash, investigators said.
"We know that trauma exposure, such as that experienced with a firearm injury, is a well-established risk factor for child mental health conditions, but until recently we knew very little of about the mental health consequences following a firearm injury," said Dr. Peter Ehrlich, director of pediatric trauma care at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor.
"We hope that our study will illuminate the magnitude and types of disorders most likely to arise in young firearm injury survivors, so they can receive timely diagnosis and care," Ehrlich said in a university news release.
About 20,000 young people survive firearm injuries each year. Firearms surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the No. 1 cause of death for 1- to 19-year-old Americans in 2020.
Most of the children studied who were diagnosed with mental health issues had problems with drugs or alcohol or a condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Such disorders were twice as likely to be diagnosed in youths who survived firearm injuries than in crash survivors.
Researchers studied data that included nearly 1,500 children ages 3 to 17 who were injured by firearms, and 3,700 similar children injured in crashes between 2010 and 2016.
About 80% of injured kids in both groups were boys (average age: 15). About 65% of those injured by firearms were Black children. About 52% of those injured in crashes were white children.
While gaps in information exist because of lack of research funding in this area, the authors said this study shines a light on the impact of surviving such experiences.
The researchers also looked at whether the new mental health diagnosis was the child's first or was in addition to a previous condition.
In all, 18.4% of children injured by firearms who had not previously had a diagnosis received one in the year after their injury, the study found. That compared to 13.5% of those injured in crashes.
And 16.4% of children who already had one mental health diagnosis received another after a firearm injury compared to 12.5% of crash survivors.
Firearm survivors were also more likely to be hospitalized and require intensive care than car crash survivors, the study found.
It was funded by the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens (FACTS) Consortium.
The findings were presented last week at the 2022 National Research Conference on Firearm Injury Prevention, in Washington, D.C., and recently published in the Annals of Surgery.
The Medical University of South Carolina has more on firearm injuries and mental health in children.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine--University of Michigan, news release, Nov. 30, 2022