Psychological impact of disasters on children: review of assessment and interventions

World J Pediatr. 2009 Feb;5(1):5-11. doi: 10.1007/s12519-009-0001-x. Epub 2009 Jan 27.


Background: There is a wide range of mental and behavioral sequel in children following disasters, which can last long. This review discusses the nature and extent of the psychiatric problems, their management options and process to organize the psychological interventions for affected children.

Data sources: Literatures were searched through PubMed with the words "children, disaster, psychiatry, and mental health" and relevant cross references were included in the review.

Results: Proportions of children having posttraumatic symptoms or syndromal diagnoses vary in different studies depending on various factors like nature and severity of disaster, diagnostic criteria used, cultural issues regarding meaning of trauma, support available, etc. Common psychiatric manifestations among children include acute stress reactions, adjustment disorder, depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders specific to childhood and psychotic disorders. Comorbidities and sub-clinical syndromes are also common. Most of the post-disaster mental health interventions can be provided in the community by the local disaster workers. Supportive counselling, cognitive behavior therapy, brief trauma/grief-focused psychotherapy, and play therapy are the commonly utilized methods of psychological intervention, which can be given in groups. Information about the efficacy of medications is still emerging, while many are being used and found useful.

Conclusions: Following disaster, systematic screening for psychological problems in children is suggested. An integrated approach using psycho-socio-educational and clinical interventions is expected to be effective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comorbidity
  • Conduct Disorder / diagnosis
  • Conduct Disorder / epidemiology
  • Conduct Disorder / therapy
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Disasters*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Psychotherapy / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Support
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy