Health & Fitness News Elsewhere  [fresh daily from the Web]

Helping children and adolescents cope with violence and disasters       Send a link to a friend

Part 6: What are scientists learning about trauma in children and adolescents?

[April 30, 2007]  The National Institute of Mental Health has brought forth information to assist the nation as we recover from the shock and distress created by the recent Virginia Tech shootings. This information is particularly designed to help in times of unanticipated, great or violent loss, but the underlying principles are useful for any level of grief and healing.

(Part 1: Introduction)

(Part 2: Trauma -- What is it?)

(Part 3: How children and adolescents react to trauma)

(Part 4: Helping the child or adolescent trauma survivor)

(Part 5: Post-traumatic stress disorder)

Part 6:


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

[to top of second column]

It is particularly important to conduct research to discover which individual, family, school and community interventions work best for children and adolescents exposed to violence or disaster, and to find out whether a well-intended but ill-designed intervention could set the youngsters back by keeping the trauma alive in their minds. Through research, NIMH hopes to gain knowledge to lessen the suffering that violence and disasters impose on children and adolescents and their families.


3March JS, Amaya-Jackson L, Terry R, Costanzo P. Posttraumatic symptomatology in children and adolescents after an industrial fire. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1997; 36(8): 1080-8.

27Goenjian AK, Karayan I, Pynoos RS, Minassian D, Najarian LM, Steinberg AM, Fairbanks LA. Outcome of psychotherapy among early adolescents after trauma. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1997; 154(4): 536-42.

28Deblinger E, Steer RA, Lippmann J. Maternal factors associated with sexually abused children's psychosocial adjustment. Child Maltreatment, 1999; 4(1): 13-20.

29Bromet EJ, Goldgaber D, Carlson G, Panina N, Golovakha E, Gluzman SF, Gilbert T, Gluzman D, Lyubsky S, Schwartz JE. Children's well-being 11 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2000; 57(6): 563-71.

30McFarlane AC. Family functioning and overprotection following a natural disaster: the longitudinal effects of post-traumatic morbidity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 1987; 21(2): 210-8.

31Stuber ML, Nader KO, Pynoos RS. The violence of despair: consultation to a HeadStart program following the Los Angeles uprising of 1992. Community Mental Health Journal, 1997; 33(3): 235-41.

32Pfefferbaum B, Nawaz S, Kearns LJ. Posttraumatic stress disorder in children: implications for assessment, prevention, and referral in primary care. Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, 1999; 92(7): 309-15.

33Lipschitz DS, Winegar RK, Hartnick E, Foote B, Southwick SM. Posttraumatic stress disorder in hospitalized adolescents: psychiatric comorbidity and clinical correlates. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999; 38(4): 385-92.

34McCloskey LA, Walker M. Posttraumatic stress in children exposed to family violence and single-event trauma. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1999; 20(1): 108-15.

35Ackerman PT, Newton JEO, McPherson WB, Jones JG, Dykman RA. Prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric diagnoses in three groups of abused children (sexual, physical, and both). Child Abuse and Neglect, 1998; 22(8): 759-74.

36Bell CC, Jenkins EJ. Community violence and children on Chicago's Southside. Psychiatry, 1993; 56(1): 46-54.

37Bell CC, Jenkins EJ. Traumatic stress and children. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 1991; 2(1): 175-88.

38Earls FJ. Child exposure to violence and PTSD across urban settings. NIMH Grant No. 5R01-MH56241-05. In progress.

39Richards MH. Risky context and exposure to violence in urban youth. NIMH Grant No. 5R01-MH57938-02. In progress.

The general public can obtain publications about PTSD and other anxiety disorders by calling NIMH's toll-free information service, 1-888-ANXIETY, or calling the Institute's public inquiries office at (301) 443-4513. Information is also available online from NIMH's website:
. The accompanying resource list indicates agencies or organizations that may have additional information about helping children and adolescents cope with violence and disasters.

For more information: Anxiety Disorders Information and Organizations from NLM's MedlinePlus (en Espanol)

The information in this series has been made available through the National Institute of Mental Health.

[Text copied from National Institute of Mental Health]


< Recent articles

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law & Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health & Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor