Challenges in Meeting Immediate Emotional Needs: Short-term Impact of a Major Disaster on Children's Mental Health: Building Resiliency in the Aftermath of Huricanne Katrina

Madrid, Paula; Redlener, Neil B.; Grant, Roy F.; Reilly, Michael J.

Disasters, whether resulting from terrorism or natural events, have a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of children. Studies after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and countless reports on the impact of natural disasters on children show that a child’s mental health can suffer from direct and indirect exposure to these events. Children may react to a disaster or act of terrorism in a variety of ways. These reactions are influenced by age, developmental level, intellectual capacity, individual and family support systems, personality, and other factors. Common manifestations of psychological trauma in young children include regression, clinging behavior, inattentiveness, aggressiveness, bed-wetting, somatic complaints, irritability, social withdrawal, nightmares, and crying. Longer-lasting effects may include depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and interpersonal or academic difficulties. Some children are particularly vulnerable to post disaster trauma because of preexisting psychosocial stressors (homelessness, foster care, exposure to violence, etc.), low socioeconomic status, or special needs (including cognitive delays and prior mental illness). These post disaster reactions may not manifest until well after the event and could persist for years.

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National Center for Disaster Preparedness
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January 4, 2013