The psychological effects of parental mental health on children experiencing disaster: the experience of Bolu earthquake in Turkey

Fam Process. 2003 Winter;42(4):485-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2003.00485.x.


Disasters affect families as a whole, and symptoms displayed by a family member may lead to secondary traumatizations for other members of the family, especially the children. This study examines the effects of parental psychopathology and family functioning on children's psychological problems six months after the earthquake in Bolu, Turkey. Forty-nine children aged between 7 and 14 and their parents were randomly chosen from among 800 families living in a survivor camp in Bolu. Both the children and parents were assessed by trained psychiatrists and psychologists using self-report measures for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety symptoms six months after the earthquake. Family functioning in survivor families was also assessed using the Family Assessment Device (FAD). The results showed that the severity of PTSD in children was mainly affected by the presence of PTSD and the severity of depression in the father. State and trait anxiety scores of children were related to general family functioning. The constellation of PTSD symptomatology was different in fathers than in mothers: the most common type of symptoms was "externalizing" in fathers with PTSD. This study supports the notion that the mere presence of PTSD in parents may not be enough to explain the relational process in families experiencing trauma. Our findings with earthquake survivors suggest that when fathers become more irritable and detached because of PTSD symptoms, their symptoms may affect children more significantly.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / pathology
  • Disasters*
  • Family Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Assessment
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / pathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Turkey