Addressing children’s mental health needs in a crisis is vital, say pediatricians

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges parents and other caregivers to pay special attention to children’s mental health needs as the nation continues recovery and rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Katrina. The AAP has placed a listing of resources on its Web site at http://www.aap.org that address the physical and emotional needs of children. Children who have been displaced by the flood face many losses such as the loss of home, familiar surroundings, a supportive school or daycare community, peers, prized possessions, and potentially, loved ones.

Studies conducted after the events of September 11 showed that mental health needs among children were widespread and persistent — but often went unrecognized, and in the majority of cases, untreated. Because of children’s developmental limitations, they are often unable to express their needs directly or clearly. They rely on adults to help them identify and express their concerns, to help them access supportive services, to model appropriate coping behaviors, and to provide a supportive environment so they can begin to understand and adjust to the crisis.

The AAP urges parents and caregivers to remember that if children receive support, they may emerge from a crisis more capable and resilient. Without such support, though, children are more likely to have difficulty adjusting, and risk long-term problems.