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Child Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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A common assumption that children are more resilient to traumatic events than adults has proved to be wrong. Because they are young and may not be able to comprehend the complexity of events around them does not shield them from depression.

A study of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, on child survivors of Hurricane Katrina and witnesses of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was reported by Claude Chemtob, a New York child psychologist in the latest Child Development section of Time Magazine. This research show that “young children and teens not only exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression that are similar to those of adults, but that they may react more strongly to trauma because adults do.” In addition, PTSD is most likely to be diagnosed in younger children and girls.

Preschool children who had been directly exposed to the tragic events of 9/11 were studied for long-term effects. Chemtob found that the reaction of their mothers had a direct effect on the kids' reported symptoms of depression. "Kids are very attuned to their moms because moms send cues to their kids about what's safe and what's not.” Mothers that are distracted and perceive that life is a series of fearful events are not helping their child in his/her healthy emotional development. The psychologist’s second study of older children (12-20) who actually witnessed the planes hit the towers found that they were more likely to be depressed or be anxious.

Another study, led by child-development researcher Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, found similar findings. The results of these two researchers supports the conclusions in two other studies also in a recent issue of Child Development. These studies focused on child survivors of Hurricane Katrina. They found that three years after the hurricane, children 9-11 were four times more likely to show symptoms of PTSD that were older children.

It could be concluded that older children had more life experience and were able to process the events. Child psychologist, Joy Osofsky, suggestions that “younger children are more dependent on their caretakers, adolescents can turn to their friends or others in the community”. Those who rebounded most quickly were those whose schools were rebuilt quickly and those who had support in their home and community.

The notion that kids will just let tragedy roll off their back is a myth. It cannot be assumed that children are going to bounce back from traumatic events because they are young. Gershoff said that children should not be denied access to mental-health services right after the disaster and it should be offered for them just like help is offered to adults. They need someone to help them understand and cope.

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