WHAT ARE SCIENTISTS LEARNING ABOUT TRAUMA IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a part of the Federal Government's National Institutes of Health, supports research on the brain and a wide range of mental disorders, including PTSD and related conditions. The Department of Veterans Affairs also conducts research in this area with adults and their family members.
Recent research findings include:
- Some studies show that counseling children very soon after a catastrophic event may reduce some of the symptoms of PTSD. A study of trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy among early adolescents exposed to an earthquake found that brief psychotherapy was effective in alleviating PTSD symptoms and preventing the worsening of co-occurring depression.27
- Parents' responses to a violent event or disaster strongly influence their children's ability to recover. This is particularly true for mothers of young children. If the mother is depressed or highly anxious, she may need to get emotional support or counseling in order to be able to help her child.28-30
- Either being exposed to violence within the home for an extended period of time or exposure to a one-time event like an attack by a dog can cause PTSD in a child.
- Community violence can have a profound effect on teachers as well as students. One study of Head Start teachers who lived through the 1992 Los Angeles riots showed that 7 percent had severe post-traumatic stress symptoms, and 29 percent had moderate symptoms. Children also were acutely affected by the violence and anxiety around them. They were more aggressive and noisy and less likely to be obedient or get along with each other.31
- Research has demonstrated that PTSD after exposure to a variety of traumatic events (family violence, child abuse, disasters, and community violence) is often accompanied by depression.3,32-35 Depression must be treated along with PTSD, and early treatment is best.
- Inner-city children experience the greatest exposure to violence. A study of young adolescent boys from inner-city Chicago showed that 68 percent had seen someone beaten up and 22.5 percent had seen someone shot or killed. Youngsters who had been exposed to community violence were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior or depression within the following year.36,37
NIMH-supported scientists are continuing to conduct research into the impact of violence and disaster on children and adolescents. For example, one study will follow 6,000 Chicago children from 80 different neighborhoods over a period of several years.38
It will examine the emotional, social, and academic effects of exposure to violence. In some of the children, the researchers will look at the role of stress hormones in a child or adolescent's response to traumatic experiences. Another study will deal specifically with the victims of school violence, attempting to determine what places children at risk for victimization at school and what factors protect them.39