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Children's Health

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Post-Traumatic Stress Can Affect Children Not Directly Involved


While researchers continue to study the ramifications of these events on children, Gurwitch recommends that parents, teachers, and health providers look at children who did not directly experience the tragedy, a group usually thought to be at little risk for psychological trouble. Child psychology services should be broadened so that these children can be assessed, she says, as their parents may not realize how the event is affecting them.

There is been a rich body of literature on how adults do after tragedies of this nature, but the study of children has lagged behind, at least until recently.

Glen Davis, MD, tells WebMD that children may respond differently than adults to such tragic events, but he doesn't think there are enough data yet to confirm this. Davis, who reviewed the study for WebMD, is a psychiatrist and vice president of academic affairs at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit who has been involved in a study of post-traumatic stress in adults. Although he has not studied children, he says that adults not directly involved in such events tend to be much less affected, and tend not to develop post-traumatic stress.

But in the wake of several high-profile violent tragedies involving children, Gurwitch says, there is hardly a state in the country that is not looking at how to deal with these events.

Vital Information:

  • Researchers report that children can suffer post-traumatic stress after a disaster like the Oklahoma City bombing even if they were not directly involved. They note that care should also be considered for these children, since losing friends or acquaintances is enough to produce this syndrome.
  • Observers note that other research suggests that adults don't seem to develop this type of post-traumatic stress. The researchers add that television may be a contributor, as children relive the trauma over and over through the constant coverage that follows such tragedies.
  • More study on treatment is needed, but for now, the researchers say, parents should be aware of what their kids watch on television, how they respond to it, and whether anyone is available to discuss what may be disturbing to these young viewers.
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