Children Hospitalized for Injuries Have Increased Mental Health Needs

May 7, 2018

(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – There’s no doubt that serious injuries can be stressful for families. But little is known about the impact of these injuries on children’s mental health. A new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy, the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research, and the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at mental health and social functioning of children after they were hospitalized for an injury.

The study, published today in The Journal of Pediatrics, looked at children ages 0-18 years who were hospitalized for unintentional injuries at Nationwide Children’s from June 2005 through May 2015. All children in this study were enrolled in the hospital’s managed-Medicaid program, which allowed evaluation of baseline mental health. Researchers found that children hospitalized for an injury had on average a 63% increase in mental health diagnoses and a 155% increase in medications prescribed to treat a mental illness.

Children under four years old with burns and children of all ages with head injuries were at greatest risk for new mental health diagnoses after injury. The rate increases were most notable for stress-related conditions including adjustment disorders, disruptive behavior disorders, eating disorders, learning disorders, and sleep disorders.

“We expect children to show a certain amount of stress and discomfort as a result of spending time in the hospital for an injury,” said Dr. Julie Leonard, associate director of the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research, principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy, and senior author of this study. “When we look back at medical records, it’s clear that there are often serious mental health concerns after children go home. We, as healthcare providers, need to do a better job assessing children for mental health needs, identifying high risk children, and referring them to mental health providers before sending them home.”

Behavioral health providers suggest that these findings mean parents also need to be vigilant after their child sustains an injury. “If your child is behaving differently – for example, not sleeping well, experiencing changes in behavior or mood, or struggling to focus in school – talk to your pediatrician or seek help from a behavioral health specialist,” said Sarah VerLee, PhD, psychologist at Nationwide Children’s.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician or your local children’s hospital for a referral to mental health services. In Columbus, call 614-355-8080 to request an appointment with Nationwide Children’s Behavioral Health Services. For more information about Behavioral Health Services or how to seek help, go to

Data for this study were obtained from the trauma registry, medical records, and managed-Medicaid billing database at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Center for Suicide Prevention and Research is a joint partnership with Big Lots Behavioral Health Services and the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s. CSPR researchers and prevention specialists use clinical, public health, and epidemiological approaches to address the growing problem of youth suicide and suicidal behavior.

The Center for Pediatric Trauma Research (CPTR) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital conducts research to support global efforts in achieving the best outcomes for pediatric trauma patients. Using a multidisciplinary approach, CPTR researchers lead innovative projects to assess pre-hospital emergency medical service, acute medical and surgical management, rehabilitation, and family and community services that impact the short and long-term outcomes of injured patients. CPTR serves as a leader and a partner to translate cutting edge research findings to help patients, families, policy makers, and clinicians make informed decisions.

The Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital works globally to reduce injury-related pediatric death and disabilities. With innovative research at its core, CIRP works to continually improve the scientific understanding of the epidemiology, biomechanics, prevention, acute treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. CIRP serves as a pioneer by translating cutting edge injury research into education, policy, and advances in clinical care. For related injury prevention materials or to learn more about CIRP, visit

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Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Sarah N. VerLee, PhD
Psychiatry and Behavioral Health