Katrina Kids Facing Psychological Woes Five Years Later

One-third of Katrina kids studied are living with psychological or behavioral problems.  Children who lived through and were displaced by Hurricane Katrina are showing serious emotional or behavior problems five years after the monster storm.  According to a new study by the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness more than one in three children studied – all of whom were forced to flee their homes in the August 2005 hurricane – are living with mental health diagnoses.  Nearly 50 percent of families studied still report household instability.

“If children are bellwethers of recovery, then the social systems supporting affected Gulf Coast populations are still far from having recovered from Hurricane Katrina,” according to the researchers.  David Abramson of Columbia University, the study’s lead author, said the research team was surprised by the level of distress.  Children are “a bit of a canary in a coal mine in that they really represent a failure or a dysfunction of many, many other systems in the community,” Abramson said.  The report notes that five years after Katrina, 20,000 of the children studied still have acute emotional disorders or behavior problems; many still do not have a permanent home.  More than 160,000 Gulf Coast children were not able to return to their homes for at least three months after Katrina struck.

“Five years after Katrina, there are still tens of thousands of children and their families who are still living in limbo with a significant toll on their psychological well-being,” said co-author Irwin Redlener, who is president of the Children’s Health Fund, which funded the study.  The researchers have been studying 1,079 families from Louisiana and Mississippi for nearly five years.  They have found that 38 percent of 427 children have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression or a behavior disorder in that time.

Joy Osofsky, a psychologist with Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center, said it’s important to note that children as a whole recover more quickly than others from impoverished families that Abramson and Redlener are studying.

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