National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children

Help. Hope. Support.

Donate Today

Find Out How You Can Help

Behavioral Health Conditions in Children and Youth Exposed to Natural Disasters

Disaster Technical Assistance Center (DTAC) – 2018

This bulletin focuses on mental health and substance use (behavioral health) conditions in children and adolescents following exposure to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. It discusses the challenges faced by children and adolescents following natural disasters, explains behavioral health consequences (such as PTSD, depression, and acute stress disorder) of being exposed to traumatic events, and presents various ways to reduce lasting impacts of such events. Following an introduction, the bulletin describes common stress reactions in children and youth after a disaster, including common regression reactions, common physiological reactions, and common emotional and behavioral reactions for children ages 1-5, 5-11, 11-14, and 14-18. Background information is then provided on substance abuse in adolescents, and research findings on stress and posttraumatic stress disorders and symptoms, depression, substance use, anxiety disorders, and other mental disorders in children following disaster exposure are shared. The physical consequences of ongoing anxiety are described and comorbid psychiatric conditions are noted. The next sections of the bulletin discuss risk and protective factors for mental and behavioral health in youth and interventions to improve post-disaster behavioral health in children and youth. Strategies include using a three-tiered, stepped-care public health approach that includes universal prevention, targeted short-term interventions, and longer-term and more intensive interventions; identifying children and youth who are most in need of assistance; implementing effective school-based, teacher-mediated interventions following disasters; using both individual and group interventions; providing social support following disasters; developing strategic partnerships among clinicians and mental health support staff, including school and community personnel; and using technology-based solutions to provide mental health services. Key factors to consider when selecting a treatment modality are listed, as well as methodologies for supporting children after natural disasters. Numerous references.