Study: Child Victims of Katrina Still Face Mental Health Issues

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Five years after one of the nation’s most devastating natural disasters, the youngest victims still face the mental aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to a new study published by the American Medical Association in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness.

According to the study, released Aug. 23, more than 160,000 children faced displacement from their homes after the hurricane and encountered “ongoing chaos and uncertainty of displacement and transiency, as well as significant social disruptions in their lives.”

Many households are still displaced today, as the study’s authors estimated that the current population of New Orleans has only reached 75 to 85 percent of pre-Katrina levels. Irwin Redlener, a co-author of the study, said in an interview that these circumstances can take a “significant toll on their [children’s] psychological well-being.”

Researchers recorded data and parent interviews from the Gulf Coast Child & Family Health Study which included 283 school-aged children in Louisiana and Mississippi and a cohort of 1,079 randomly sampled households in both states.

They found that 37 percent of the children received a clinical diagnosis of either depression, anxiety or a behavioral disorder. Most parents interviewed reported that their child was currently exhibiting some form of emotional or behavioral problem.

In both states, almost half of the parents thought their child did not receive much needed mental health services. Some of the highest risk factors that contributed to mental instability in children included lack of housing stability, loss of parental income, safe schools and communities, problems getting food, and parental mental health.

Based on the data, the authors concluded that the emotional and mental wellness of the most vulnerable was an indicator of the success, or lack thereof, of successful disaster recovery.

“The social systems supporting affected Gulf Coast populations are still far from having recovered from Hurricane Katrina,” the study concluded.