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The Effect of Hurricane Katrina on Children

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Updated January 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

No one would argue that the effect of Hurricane Katrina has not been great. Since the storm hit the United States Gulf Coast in late August 2005, a number of people and communities have felt its impact, and the negative effect of Hurricane Katrina continues to be felt today.

The Effect of Hurricane Katrina

Several studies have been done in an attempt to describe the impact of Hurricane Katrina. These studies have found that the hurricane resulted in many people being separated from their children, friends, neighbors, and relatives. In addition, many people had their homes destroyed or were displaced from their homes for long periods of time. People were also exposed to increased crime and violence as a result of the hurricane.

Given these experiences, it is not surprising that many people developed symptoms of PTSD and depression following Hurricane Katrina, including having upsetting memories and thoughts about the hurricane, feeling upset when being reminded of the hurricane, trying to avoid thoughts and feelings about the hurricane, having worries about future hurricanes, and feeling on edge and tense. However, less is known about the effect of Hurricane Katrina on children specifically.

Depression and Posttraumatic Stress Due to Hurricane Katrina in Children

Children may be particularly vulnerable to experience posttraumatic stress following exposure to a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina. One group of researchers from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center looked at this. They surveyed 2,362 4th to 12th grade children in the 2005-2006 school year and 4,896 4th to 12th grade children in 2006-2007 school year. All children were from schools in Louisiana parishes that were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

They found that many children had experienced a great deal of stress as a result of the hurricane. Most had been displaced by the hurricane, had seen their neighborhood destroyed or damaged, and had lost personal belongings. In addition, around a third had been separated from a caregiver and/or a pet during the storm or evacuation. Children also reported, to a lesser extent, seeing family members or friends injured or killed.

Given the stress that these children were exposed to, it makes sense that many experienced severe symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress. In fact, this study found that about half of the children experienced high levels of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Currently being separated from a caregiver, living in a trailer, having to stay in a shelter, younger age, being female, having previous loss or trauma, having had family members or friends killed as a result of the hurricane, and having personal belongings destroyed or damaged seemed to increase risk for these symptoms.

Coping with the Effects of a Natural Disaster

Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, can have a major impact on a person's psychological health. If you are coping with the effects of a natural disaster, help is available. The National Center for PTSD provides a number of fact sheets on the effects of natural disasters and how to cope with them. You can also find treatment providers in your area through UCompare HealthCare from About.com, as well as the Anxiety Disorder Association of America.

Sources:

Mcleish, A.C., & Del Ben, K.S. (2008). Symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder in an outpatient population before and after Hurricane Katrina. Depression and Anxiety, 25, 416-421.

Osofsky, H.J., Osofsky, J.D., Kronenberg, M., Brennan, A., & Hansel, T.C. (2009). Posttraumatic stress symptoms in children after Hurricane Katrina: Predicting the need for mental health services. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 212-220.

Weems, C.F., Watts, S.E., Marsee, M.A., Taylor, L.K., Costa, N.M., Cannon, M.F., Carrion, V.G., & Pina, A.A. (2007). The psychosocial impact of Hurricane Katrina: Contextual differences in psychological symptoms, social support, and discrimination. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2295-2306.

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