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Burn injuries may be preventable with more mental health care access

Aug 3, 2017

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In a new study examining the relationship between mental health and burn injury, Sunnybrook researchers found that burn injuries may be preventable through increased access to high-quality mental health care.

“Mental illness is a major reason why burn patients are readmitted after their burn injuries,” says lead study author Dr. Stephanie Mason, researcher, Sunnybrook Research Institute and department of general surgery, University of Toronto.

“We wanted to take a deeper look at whether patients have mental health emergencies after a burn injury because of preexisting mental illness, or if the burn injury itself increases the risk of mental illness.”

The study’s findings show that burn injury survivors experience significantly increased rates of self-harm after their injuries.

Prior studies have addressed both pre- and post-burn injury mental illness, but this study is the first to address the connection between mental illness and burn injury within the same patient.

“We didn’t have a complete understanding of how burn affected the risk of mental illness,” says Dr. Mason.

The study identified 1,895 patients discharged from hospitals across Ontario between 2003 and 2011. Among all patients, regardless of whether they accessed mental health services prior to their burn injury, the rate of self-harm doubled after injury, which is the most important predictor of subsequent suicide.

The researchers also found that mental health visits spike in the three months prior to burn injury, meaning there’s an opportunity for intervention to help prevent burn injury in the first place.

“Access to mental health care, and the quality of it, is an issue across the board,” says Dr. Mason. “Surgeons need to be aware how great the mental health burden is among these patients. It’s something we need to be asking about and making sure patients are able to access appropriate care.”

Other co-authors of the study include Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s Dr. Marc Jeschke, director, Ross Tilley Burn Centre and Dr. Avery Nathens, surgeon-in-chief and trauma surgeon. The study results are published as an “article in press” on the Journal of the American College of Surgeons website ahead of print publication.