burn injuries | burn survivors | coping | psychotherapy bulletin | PTSD | risk factors | social support | trauma | trauma-related
Author’s Note: Melissa M. Matos, MA is a graduate student at the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles.
The skin has been described as the largest organ of the integumentary system (Levenson, 2008). One condition affecting the skin organ is burn injuries. Serious or severe burn injuries have been described as a life-threatening state that challenges all of the integrating systems in the body (Sveen, Dyster-Aas, & Willebrand, 2009). Serious burn injuries are not rare and often occur from everyday circumstances that come unanticipated and without warning (Taal & Faber, 1998).
According to Karter (2011), someone was injured in a fire every 30 minutes and a fire death occurred every 169 minutes in the United States in 2010. In addition, burn injuries appear to be more common among young children between the ages of 2 to 4 years, young adult males between the ages of 17 to 25 years, and older adults over the age of 65 (Flynn, 2010; Yu & Dimsdale, 1999).
The impact of burn injuries extends beyond that of visible difference and appears to be accompanied by a wide host of consequences. Financial burdens experienced by patients with burn injuries may occur from job loss associated with frequent absences due to medical treatment, and costs associated with medical surgery, rehabilitation care, and disability payments (Sadeghi-Bazargani et al., 2011; Yu & Dimsdale, 1999).
Physical impairment is often reported resulting from burn pain which is intense and causes great discomfort and suffering, particularly during hospitalization and the dressing of wounds (Yu & Dimsdale, 1999).
However, it is the psychological reaction to burn injuries, which perhaps may cause the greatest of impairment and distress. Patients suffering from burn injuries may experience depression, anxiety, and delirium associated with the physical experience of burn pain, as well as social withdrawal and negative body image due to visible differences (De Sousa, 2010; Sadeghi-Bazargani, Maghsoudi, Soudmand-Niri, Ranjbar, & Mashadi-Abdollahi, 2011; Yu & Dimsdale, 1999).
In addition, patients with burn injuries appear to be at greater risk for developing symptoms associated with psychological trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) such as re-experiencing of the incident via intrusive recollections, avoidance of reminders of the event, recurrent nightmares, memory and sleep disturbances, and phobic behavior (Lawrence & Fauerbach, 2003; Yu & Dimsdale, 1999).