Context: Children exposed to a traumatic event may be at higher risk for developing mental disorders. The prevalence of child psychopathology, however, has not been assessed in a population-based sample exposed to different levels of mass trauma or across a range of disorders.
Objective: To determine prevalence and correlates of probable mental disorders among New York City, NY, public school students 6 months following the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.
Setting: New York City public schools.
Participants: A citywide, random, representative sample of 8236 students in grades 4 through 12, including oversampling in closest proximity to the World Trade Center site (ground zero) and other high-risk areas.
Main outcome measure: Children were screened for probable mental disorders with the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children Predictive Scales.
Results: One or more of 6 probable anxiety/depressive disorders were identified in 28.6% of all children. The most prevalent were probable agoraphobia (14.8%), probable separation anxiety (12.3%), and probable posttraumatic stress disorder (10.6%). Higher levels of exposure correspond to higher prevalence for all probable anxiety/depressive disorders. Girls and children in grades 4 and 5 were the most affected. In logistic regression analyses, child's exposure (adjusted odds ratio, 1.62), exposure of a child's family member (adjusted odds ratio, 1.80), and the child's prior trauma (adjusted odds ratio, 2.01) were related to increased likelihood of probable anxiety/depressive disorders. Results were adjusted for different types of exposure, sociodemographic characteristics, and child mental health service use.
Conclusions: A high proportion of New York City public school children had a probable mental disorder 6 months after September 11, 2001. The data suggest that there is a relationship between level of exposure to trauma and likelihood of child anxiety/depressive disorders in the community. The results support the need to apply wide-area epidemiological approaches to mental health assessment after any large-scale disaster.