Sleep problems, separation anxiety and depression are prevalent among the children and adolescents who endured Hurricane Katrina, according to Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center psychologist Joy Osofsky, PhD. She and her husband, psychiatrist Howard Osofsky, MD, shared data at APA's 2006 Annual Convention from two surveys with Katrina-affected New Orleans-area children and adolescents.
Of the 2,200 fourth-graders through 12th-graders they surveyed, more than 95 percent had witnessed damage to their home, and one-third had been temporarily separated from their primary caregiver. On average, the youth had attended two schools since Katrina hit, and some had attended up to nine, said Osofsky. Twenty-one percent had witnessed injury to family and friends, and 14 percent reported that a family member or friend had died during or directly after Katrina. Nearly half met the criteria for a mental health referral, and 13 percent requested counseling. "And if you think about how teenagers are, that's pretty unusual," said Osofsky. Common problems included depression, separation anxiety, sleep difficulties, appetite issues and nightmares.
Among the nearly 800 younger children-Pre-K through third grade-they surveyed, 32 percent met the criteria for a mental health referral, said Osofsky. While far fewer of them had been separated from their caregiver, nearly 20 percent reported living in a crowded shelter at some point. Ten percent had witnessed family members injured, and three percent had witnessed death. Thirty-eight percent requested a follow-up visit with a mental health professional.