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Study Finds Natural Disasters Negatively Affect Children’s Emotional State

Update Date: Nov 04, 2013 02:10 PM EST

Natural disasters, ranging from wildfires to floods, are inevitable. The most people can do is protect themselves, their families and special belongings through preparation. However, in some cases, even the most amount of preparation cannot save everything and everyone from destruction. In a new study, researchers aimed to examine the effects of natural disaster on young children. The research team focused on the bushfires in New South Wales and the flooding in Queensland both in Australia. They found that these natural disasters could take an emotional toll on children.

For this study, the research team headed by Dr. Vanessa Cobham, a clinical psychologist from the University of Queensland, collected data on flood-affected communities in Queensland. The data came from 200 parents' survey answers gathered over a two-year time span. The parents had attended the Disaster Recovery Triple P seminar that provided them with emotional support, information and reassurance. The seminar, which lasted two-hours, was founded by Professor Matt Sanders.

Based on the information Cobham collected from the program by working with Sanders, Cobham found that children were greatly affected by natural disasters. She estimated that for victims without any access to professional care and intervention post flooding, around 10 percent will suffer from persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or other conditions, such as depression. Cobham stressed the importance for parents to observe their children months after the event to see if they need special care to help them cope with what happened. Some of these symptoms include sleep difficulties, nightmares, immature behavior, hyper-alert behavior, anxiety, irritation and sadness.

"After a natural disaster many people experience some anxiety and stress, which is completely normal," Cobham said, reported by Medical Xpress. "Most people haven't been through an experience like that before, so they don't know what to expect or what is 'normal' in terms of the emotional impact. Children and adolescents are a particularly vulnerable and often overlooked group."

In order to care for children victims, Cobham reminded parents to utilize programs, such as the free Disaster Recovery Triple P seminars, which were available to communities throughout Queensland. The seminar educated parents about different ways to deal with their children and the family's situation after a natural disaster. The seminar also informed parents of risk factors that might make certain children more vulnerable to be emotionally affected by a natural disaster. Lastly, the seminar taught parents how to address their children's problems if they are still exhibiting symptoms post-event.

The report was provided by the University of Queensland.

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