BACKGROUND Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be a persistent and disabling psychiatric disorder. There is little systematic research into the psychiatric consequences of road traffic accidents (RTAs) in children and adolescents.
METHOD A consecutive sample of 8-16-year-olds attending an accident and emergency department following RTAs were screened for PTSD. Potential cases and their parent(s) were interviewed with semi-structured research instruments about six weeks and six months after the accident.
RESULTS Fifty-three (45%) of the 119 subjects fell above PTSD cut-off on the Frederick's Reaction Index. Thirty-three (75%) of the 44 cases met DSM-IV criteria for PTSD. In half of these other psychiatric disorders were present, including major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. Being female, involvement in car accidents and pre-existing depression and anxiety were associated with developing PTSD. Seventeen per cent of the sample continued to be symptomatic six months after the accident.
CONCLUSIONS PTSD is a common consequence of RTAs. Liaison with accident and emergency departments would enhance the early detection and follow-up of children at risk of developing PTSD.