The Impact of Natural Disasters on Children’s Mental Health

Hurricane season is upon us and weather updates crowd television screens across the nation. It seems like reporters tell the country about everything from who decides to stay behind to how the family dog survived. But one subject that gets little mention is how our youngest citizens in these areas respond and cope when disaster strikes. The repeated cycle of severe weather and subsequent devastation has given first responders and mental health professionals plenty of opportunity to watch and learn how children react when natural disasters hit their hometown.

It’s easy enough to imagine how frightening these events must be for children as they are unfolding, but even once the storms subside, children’s lives continue to be affected by things like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent weather. For one thing, the family may be forced to leave home in search of shelter during the storm. Flooding and destruction may make it impossible for families to quickly return home. Children in these circumstances are forced to move, change schools, make new friends and so forth. Even if they are able to go back to their original home, things like downed power lines and unstable construction may mean that they can no longer play outdoors, at the neighbor’s or even visit their regular place of worship.

Some children are overwhelmed by all of the upset and turmoil. A percentage of these kids struggle with depression and some even suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Helping children deal with all of these stressful life changes following a natural disaster is what a new workbook is all about. Based on information gleaned through research following hurricane Ike’s impact on Galveston, TX, the book offers parents a practical tool for walking their child through challenging post-disaster realities. The book addresses mental health issues by providing guidance toward developing healthy emotional coping mechanisms and showing parents how to gently help their child face anxieties.

The workbook also offers helpful suggestions to help families guard their physical health. Mental and physical health is often intertwined. The workbook emphasizes doing all you can to maintain regular family routines even when the surroundings are in flux. It also highlights the benefits of getting steady physical exercise in order to stay fit and keep a positive attitude. The workbook is titled After the Storm. It is a free tool which parents can access online and offers simple, practical advice to parents of children who have had their lives disrupted by intense natural disaster.

Based on research so far, children who continue to struggle with depression and/or symptoms of PTSD more than eight months after the tragedy, are likely to continue struggling. It is therefore important to begin helping children as soon as possible following the event to sort out their feelings and to show them by example how people can take positive control over their lives in the face of overwhelming circumstances.

There is still hope.

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