The Psychological Effects of Hurricane Katrina for Child and Adolescent Survivors

by the Staff of the NYU Child Study Center

The effects of witnessing and/or being a victim of Hurricane Katrina will vary for children depending on their age, how they experienced the event, their ability to understand what is going on around them, and whether they were or are currently separated from parents or other primary care providers. Children who have lost or are separated from their primary caregivers and children who were experiencing emotional or physical difficulties prior to Hurricane Katrina are particularly at risk for symptoms of traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. While children of all ages may experience a range of reactions, below are some of the most common reactions for children of different ages:

Infancy to Age 3
Increasing crying
Repeatedly searching for caregivers
Clinging
Sleep disturbances
Regression to earlier behaviors (such as bedwetting, thumb sucking)
Repetitive talk or play

3-5 Year Olds
Fear of being separated from caregivers
Sleep disturbances
Tantrums
Irritability
Withdrawal
Increase in fears
Magical thinking (believing that a deceased or missing person will suddenly appear)
Acting as though a deceased person is still alive
Crying

6-9 Year Olds
Denial
Irritability/opposition to authority
Fighting, bullying
Withdrawal
Fear of separation
Physical complaints (headache, stomachache)
Sleep disturbance
School refusal, academic decline, memory problems
Crying

9-12 Year Olds
Crying
Aggression, irritability
Resentment
Sadness and withdrawal
Increased anxiety, including panic
Sleep disturbance
Physical complaints (headache, stomachache)
Self blame, guilt
Exaggerated attempts to protect caregivers and family members
School refusal, academic decline, memory problems


13-18 Year Olds
Re-experiencing the event (flashbacks)
Numbing and avoidance of difficult memories or feelings
Sadness and withdrawal
Loss of Trust
Resentment
Guilt and shame
Anger
Acting out (engaging in risky or anti-social behavior)
Exaggerated euphoria
Substance use
Fear of similar events in the future
School refusal, academic decline, memory problems