Children who had experienced maltreatment, domestic abuse or peer violence on top of exposure to disaster had more anxiety, depression, and aggression than children who only experienced a disaster, a new study has indicated.
This study makes it clear that, for some children, those problems may also be related to other stress events in their lives," said lead author Kathryn Becker-Blease, a child development psychologist with Oregon State University.
The study, taken from phone interviews with children and parents, shows that 4.1 percent of children had experienced a disaster in the past year and that 13.9 percent of the sample reported a lifetime exposure to a variety of disasters. In the study, disaster was defined to include both minor disasters, like home fires, and major disasters, like large earthquakes.
"After a disaster, we tell parents to remain calm, to resume a routine, and to assure children that adults will keep them safe. In reality, not all families provide calm, safe places with predicable routines. This study shows that children in those families are at higher risk for emotional and behavioral problems," Becker-Blease said.
"We should be thinking about ways to help those families, while recognizing that most families cope with disasters well with less support." she said.
Bob Porter, a retired licensed clinical social worker who volunteers as a Disaster Mental Health responder for the Oregon Trail Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the results of Becker-Blease's study are not surprising to him. It is consistent with his impressions over the years in working with disaster victims and survivors, especially children who may have had previous traumas in their life.
"We advise them to be aware that some of the reactions they are seeing in survivors may be related to other stressors and underlying issues, possibly even traumas, that children and other family members have experienced prior to the current event happening," he said.