Researchers examine effects of natural disasters on youth

2017 has seen a historic magnitude of tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin, affecting millions in the United States and the Carribean islands.

Since the extremely catastrophic Hurricane Andrew struck the southeastern peninsula of Florida, Annette M. La Greca, a Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Miami, has been studying how such monster storms affect the psychological well-being of youths.

La Greca, along with University of Miami graduate student BreAnne Danzi, has been piecing together exactly how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ensues in children following a natural disaster.

“The good news is that most children are resilient, even after a very devastating storm,” said La Greca.

The study, published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, had 327 participants, all children aged 7-11 from different elementary schools in Galveston, Texas during 2008’s Hurricane Ike.

Researchers concluded that the preschool definition of PTSD found more distressed children than the traditional adult definition. Therefore, for elementary school children, the preschool definition may be used to screen for PTSD following a natural disaster.

Furthermore, two-thirds of elementary school children who may have suffered distress as a result of a natural disaster, recovered by the end of the school year, according to the study. However, researchers noted that the children who recovered the most had stronger support systems and fewer life stressors, in addition to stronger coping skills.

“Children who need extra support include those who report feeling anxious or depressed, as well as stressed, and who lack social support from friends and family. They also have multiple stressors to deal with after the storm. All of those factors contribute to poor recovery and less resilience,” said La Greca.

At the end of the study, La Greca and her colleagues created a workbook that could help children who are recovering from a natural disaster, as it was utilized after Hurricane Katrina and Ike.

In the workbook, titled After The Storm, researchers highlight how staying in touch with friends and family, eating and sleeping healthy, exercise, and ignoring media coverage of the aftermath of storms may improve the recovery process and keep things positive.