PROVIDENCE, R.I., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Nearly half of teens who go to the emergency room report peer violence and cyberbullying, and one-quarter have symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study.
The study, conducted at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Rhode Island, found emergency room care did not screen for PTSD except in cases of clear physical trauma -- which researchers said could be allowing teens in need of mental health to fall through the cracks.
Previous studies have suggested ERs screen adolescents and teens for psychiatric disorders, though researchers said there is a lack of knowledge on how PTSD manifests itself in teens because of bullying, violence and neighborhood exposure to alcohol and drugs.
One pediatrician's group, the American Association of Pediatrics, issued a recommendation in January that all children be screened every year for depression starting at age 11, at least partially because of the rise in suicides among adolescents in recent years.
The recommendation lines up with the new study, which found few of the teens who reported PTSD symptoms had received any kind of mental health treatment in the preceding year.
"Existing literature on PTSD in adolescent emergency patients describes its development after an acute assault or motor vehicle crash," Dr. Megan Ranney, a researcher at Hasbro Children's Hospital and professor at Brown University, said in a press release. "But, this study highlights the need for improved efforts at more standardized mental health evaluation, possibly even screening for PTSD regardless of the reason for a teen's visit to the emergency department."
For the study, published in General Hospital Psychiatry, researchers surveyed 353 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 seeking care at the emergency room between August 2013 and March 2014 using validated self-report measures to track mental health symptoms, violence exposure, and risky behavior.
Among the teenagers, 46.5 percent reported physical peer violence, 46.7 percent reported cyberbullying, and 58.9 percent reported exposure to community violence. Many of the exposures, reactions and symptoms described by teenagers during the surveys were consistent with PTSD, researchers reported.
Nearly a quarter of the teenagers -- 23.2 percent -- reported symptoms of PTSD, with 13.9 percent having moderate or higher depressive symptoms and 11.3 percent contemplating suicide in the previous year.
The researchers said the study sheds light on far greater numbers of teens suffering from PTSD who are not diagnosed or treated, which increases the risk for negative long-term impacts on quality of life, among other effects.
"These results should serve as a reminder to parents, schools and physicians that these problems are prevalent in our community," Ranney said. "This study also highlights that teens with a history of cyberbullying or peer violence are more likely to have PTSD, which is a very treatable disease if properly identified and addressed."