Children's emotional and behavioral reactions to disasters: role of the primary care physician

J Okla State Med Assoc. 2014 Sep-Oct;107(9-10):501-6.


Background: Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of disasters. The coming tornado season raises concerns about enduring problems and anniversary reactions related to the May 2013 tornadoes as well as anxiety about the possibility of new events.

Methods: This article describes common emotional and behavioral disaster reactions in children and also identifies reactions unique to a particular age. Reactions are clustered into depressive, anxious, and behavioral symptoms and physiological responses.

Primary results: This article outlines the key elements in assessing children's disaster reactions and provides specific recommendations for situations that would indicate the need for a mental health evaluation such as for directly-exposed children, children who experience disaster-related losses, those with pre-existing vulnerabilities, and those with significant symptoms.

Principal conclusions: Primary care physicians can help identify the emotional and behavioral effects of disasters in children, educate parents to recognize children's reactions, and refer children in need of specialized care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disasters*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physicians, Primary Care*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Survivors* / psychology