Methods: A multi-wave longitudinal community sample of over 30,000 youth age 10-18 were screened over a ten-year period following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 through 2015. Annual screenings were conducted by the schools to guide school-based mental health recovery needs and services. The screenings consisted of demographics, disaster and recovery information, additional traumas, current stressors and a posttraumatic stress symptom scale. School level data was also used to understand how community indicators (median income, single headed households, etc.) contribute to symptoms.
Results: Preliminary results revealed that over 40% of children met the cut-off for posttraumatic stress following Hurricane Katrina. Consistent with existing studies, these numbers decrease overtime with increases following additional traumas, disasters, or stressors. Child race, income, stressors, and other (non-disaster) traumas contributed to a greater degree than disaster exposure to increased or prolonged posttraumatic stress symptoms.
Conclusions and Implications: Many children are at an unfair advantage following disaster due to social disparities and chronic stress. Screenings allow for targeting services to those most in need, which are often the most underserved. Following disasters funding and acceptance of mental health services tend to increase, allowing for opportunities to address not only disaster related concerns, but also preventative toward other behavioral health issues. We argue that proper screening at the school level should occur even in times of non-disaster as a method to understand who may be at risk and changes in mental health status. These screenings should be followed by a variety of school-based mental health services—ranging from general psychoeducation, preventive self-efficacy programs, to treatment. Policy efforts are needed to make children’s mental health a constant priority, especially for underserved and disadvantaged youth, and not just during times of crisis.