The symptoms, which must last at least a month to qualify for the diagnosis, include nightmares, sleep disturbance, separation anxiety, intrusive thoughts and difficulty talking to parents and friends. One-third of the 70,000- plus young people under 19 involved in road accidents each year are thought to be affected.
The findings suggest that such victims are just as much in need of psychological help and support as those involved in bigger incidents and disasters, but are not getting it.
Doctors from the Royal United hospital in Bath, who studied 119 people aged from 7 to 19 involved in road accidents last year, found that they were much more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder than victims of sports injuries. The reaction was as severe in those who suffered minor injuries as in those seriously injured, suggesting that pre-existing psychological factors play a role.
Dr Paul Stallard and colleagues say in the British Medical Journal that there is increasing evidence that children are affected in a similar way to adults. The idea that children quickly get over traumatic events is no longer sustainable.
They found that girls were more prone to the disorder than boys and those affected suffered symptoms severe enough to interfere with their daily lives. Of the 119 children, 41 were affected compared with two out of 66 children who suffered sporting accidents.
However, if counselling were offered, it would not necessarily be taken up. The researchers say they gave the family of each affected child a telephone number to contact if they wanted help but only two used it.Reuse content