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Tens of thousands of children still affected by Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina.jpg

As you may have read about elsewhere today, Hurricane Katrina struck five years ago this week. And according to a new Children's Health Fund/Columbia University report (link to .pdf), published in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, some of the hardest-hit victims of the natural disaster and its aftermath were also the smallest. As outlined in a release today, there are still widespread mental health issues among children living in the region:

  • [Sixty percent] of children - as many as 20,000 - displaced by Katrina either have serious emotional disorders, behavioral issues and/or are experiencing significant housing instability
  • One-third of children are reported to have been diagnosed with at least one mental health problem, but fewer than 50% of parents were able to access needed professional services
  • Children post-Katrina are 4.5 times more likely to have serious emotional disturbance than children not affected by the disaster

Researchers say that many of the problems stemmed from housing instability and prolonged displacement following the hurricane; indeed, 60 percent of the 1,000 families surveyed for the study reported their current situation "as being unstable or worse than it was before Katrina." Columbia researcher and senior author David Abramson, PhD, MPH, commented:

Children are completely dependent upon others in their lives to provide the security and stability that will help them recover. This suggests that the many support systems in children's lives - their parents, their communities, and their schools - are not yet functioning properly. The slow recovery of children's mental health in Gulf Coast populations is a bellwether indicator of how well the region is recovering.

As noted in the release, it is well-established that disasters - man-made and natural - lead to significant increases in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety in both children and adults. Stanford's David Spiegel, MD, a PTSD expert, has done extensive research in this area and recently shared his thoughts on the affect of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on people's mental health.

Photo by Infrogmation

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