The consequences of severe burns can be life-altering. Limbs and other severely burned body parts may never be fully functional again. Badly burned skin may never fully heal. Serious burn injuries may require extensive rehabilitation, long-term care, and even cosmetic surgery. Furthermore, related medical expenses can create a huge financial burden. In addition to the physical injuries and financial burdens, serious burn injuries can also have a psychological impact that is almost impossible to quantify, but very real. The temporary or permanent disfigurement associated with severe burns brings with it great emotional distress. It can also lead to lost career opportunities and a reduced ability to spend time with loved ones.
What is ASD?
Immediately after an accident, a burn victim may have a higher anxiety response. This isn’t unusual and can be expected for a short time after a burn injury. However, if the anxiety continues and fluctuates, it could be a warning sign of Acute Stress Disorder (ASD), which is the intense and unpleasant reaction to the accident trauma. Victims can show symptoms including depersonalization, emotional numbing, and a general reduced awareness. ASD is curable, and medical treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness techniques are commonly used to help ASD patients. It is also important for burn victims to avoid hearing details about the incident. This is especially difficult for those with ongoing personal injury cases.
PTSD After a Burn Injury
If patients do not recover from their ASD, the long-term disorder leads to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is defined as a condition in which a person regularly experiences emotional distress due to a traumatic event. This causes them to relive the traumatic event repeatedly, disrupting their sleep and many other normal daily functions. About half of burn victims will experience some level of PTSD in the first year after the accident.
There are typically four stages of PTSD that burn injury victims experience:
- Impact Stage – Occurs immediately after the event. During this time, the patient has trouble coping and understanding what just took place.
- Denial Stage – During this stage, the victim denies the fact that the event occurred. They are in such a state of disbelief that the only way to deal with the memories is to believe that the event didn’t actually happen.
- Short-Term Recovery Stage – Once the person accepts what has happened, he or she can move on to the short-term recovery stage. This is where the patient begins to find ways to cope with the trauma experienced and find ways to carry on with a normal life.
- Long-term Recovery Stage – At this point, it is important for the patient to seek therapy or support groups. With outside help, they can begin to find ways to return to the life they used to know. Stress inoculation training and prolonged exposure therapy are just two examples of ways someone with PTSD can recover from their stress and anxiety disorders.
Physical disfigurement can dramatically destroy a victim’s mental state, causing long-term emotional problems. To better cope with the unexpected, it is important to understand the psychological impact following a burn injury. Emotional scars are just as devastating as physical ones and can cause years of disruption.