, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 165-172
Date: 31 Aug 2008

Psychological effects of earthquakes in children: prospects for brief behavioral treatment

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Abstract

Background

Treatment of child earthquake survivors is a relatively less investigated issue in disaster research. A review of the evidence on the mental health effects of earthquakes, risk factors, and findings from treatment studies may provide useful insights into effective treatment of traumatized children.

Data sources

Studies of child and adolescent earthquake survivors included the PILOTS database (electronic index for literature on psychological trauma) and relevant evidence from various studies of adult earthquake survivors.

Results

Evidence points to elevated rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and earthquake-related fears in children and adolescents. Traumatic stress appears to be mediated by loss of control over fear induced by exposure to unpredictable and uncontrollable earthquakes. This implies that interventions enhancing sense of control over fear are likely to be most effective. Recent studies indeed show that a control focused behavioral treatment (CFBT) involving mainly encouragement for self-exposure to feared situations is highly effective in facilitating recovery from earthquake trauma. Evidence also suggests that CFBT can be delivered through booklets and similar media.

Conclusions

Pilot studies suggest that CFBT has promise in effective treatment of PTSD in children. Further research is needed to confirm these preliminary findings and to develop self-help tools for children.