Dec 02 2010


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Hurricane Katrina is viewed as one of the most powerful and devastating hurricanes that the peoples of the United States have ever experienced.  To experience such a storm and survive is a feat in its own right, but for most of these people, their experience of Hurricane Katrina is far from over.  Many of the survivors, especially children, developed mental problems, which is normally an overlooked aspect of this Hurricane because it caused so much untold death and damage.  Not only did Hurricane Katrina wreak physical devastation, but it continued its wake of destruction within the psyches of the people who experienced its destructive forces first hand and survived.

Psychological Effects

Residents of Biloxi, search through donations for items they need. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the property of many residents of the Mississippi gulf coast. (Source: {{PD}} Category:Hurricane Katrina)

Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after one has experienced an ordeal that poses severe physical harm or in which physical harm was experienced to an immense caliber.  Natural disasters are a prevalent source for triggering PTSD, in which the “fight or flight” response has been changed or damaged to the point that a person can feel frightened or uneasy in a situation that presents no danger.  People with this disorder can even re-experience the traumatic situation in the form of flashbacks (NIMH Staff, 2009).  Serious emotional disturbance, SED, can also be accounted for severe stress, which can be generated from a traumatizing event as with Hurricane Katrina.  SED is normally associated with children and has been witnessed to have educational implications.  This is because children with serious SED disorders can exhibit distorted thinking abilities, extreme anxiety, and irregular mood swings.  These actions will be prevalent for a long period of time, which suggests that children with SED are not able to cope with their peers or their environment (Derner, 2007).

Effects on Children

The psychological effects caused by Hurricane Katrina changed the lives of many people, but evidence has been found that suggests that children who experienced this disaster will be at more increased risk of emotional and psychological changes than adults.  This is because younger kids may not have the ability to process the events in which they witnessed, and thus, may not be able to cope with the destruction that is coupled with such a disaster.  It is found in children who range from 10 to 12 years of age that there is a development of concern for disease and death.  This normal occurrence of concern for death and disease may be worsened by the exposure to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.  It also poses to make the post-disaster perspective more emotionally and psychologically demanding for younger children as compared to older youth, which then leads to more stable elevated or worsening PTSD symptoms for younger children (Weems, pg 49-56).  Also, a survey was conducted 18 to 27 months after Hurricane Katrina in order to estimate the prevalence of SED among children that had been exposed to this disaster.  This survey resulted in data that conveyed 9.3% of youths who ranged from 4 to 17 years of age were estimated to have SED that was directly caused by the events of Hurricane Katrina.  It was also found that stress exposure was compellingly correlated with SED, and that 20.3% of youths surveyed with high stress exposure had SED that was accredited by Hurricane Katrina (McLaughlin, pg 1069-1078).  This data suggests that even after 2 years SED is still prevalent in youths that were exposed to Hurricane Katrina, which means that there still exists a tremendous need for mental health treatment resources in areas where people are affected by this storm.


New Orleans, La., September 3, 2005 -- Survivors of Hurricane Katrina arrive at New Orleans Airport where FEMA's D-MAT teams have set up and people will be flown to shelters in other states. New Orleans is being evacuated as a result of floods from hurricane Katrina.

Coping is necessary for one to overcome a situation and to continue leading a normal life that would otherwise plague that individual and hinder them from participating normally in society.  The effects of Hurricane Katrina on the exposed youth’s mind may decline over time, but for many other children, these effects will persist over a lasting period of time.  In order for these effects to lessen, the youth must be enveloped in an effective coping environment with efficient coping methods.  There are two different types of coping behaviors which are correlated with children that are able to accurately predict post-traumatic stress reactions.  The two types of coping behaviors employed by adolescents are avoidant coping and active coping.  In the situation of Hurricane Katrina, children who use avoidant coping strategies such as anger, social withdrawal and blame have been shown to have greater self-rated PTSD symptoms, while children who use active coping strategies such as cognitive restricting have been shown to have lower levels of self-rated depression symptoms (Pina, pg 564-574).  It has been found that 37% of children who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina have been diagnosed with some form of behavioral and conduct disorders, depression, and anxiety, and that the prevalence of emotional disturbances are 5 times more likely to occur than when compared to children that were not affect by this disaster.  Nevertheless, less than half of the parents seeking professional mental health aid were unable to access any means of professional help.  The recovery efforts of Hurricane Katrina fail in many aspects in returning affected families to the means of normality, with almost 2 out of every 3 children still plagued by serious mental and behavior problems from Hurricane Katrina (LiveScience Staff, 2010).

Hurricane Katrina proved to be a destructive storm with devastating force that nobody was prepared for, and physically devastated many by taking both lives and homes.  Where the physical devastation ended, the psychological devastation began that plagued adults and even more intensely, adolescents.  Posttraumatic stress disorder and serious emotional disturbance are two of the most prevalent physiological disorders that children faced after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.  Many children who were afflicted by these disorders could not find professional help, which suggests that the recovery resources for victims of Hurricane Katrina are exceptionally limited.


Derner, G. (2007). Serious emotional disturbance and child eligibility. Iowa Department of Human Services, Retrieved from

LiveScience Staff, (2010). Mental health problems rampant in kids displaced by Katrina. Live Science, Retrieved from

McLaughlin, K., Fairbank, J., Gruber, M., Jones, R., Lakoma, M., Pfefferbaum, B., et al. (2009). Serious emotional disturbance among youth exposed to Hurricane Katrina 2 years postdisaster. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(11), 1069-1078. doi:10.1097/CHI.0b013e3181b76697.

NIMH Staff. (2009, January 21). Post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd). NIMH, Retrieved from

Pina, A., Villalta, I., Ortiz, C., Gottschall, A., Costa, N., & Weems, C. (2008). Social support, discrimination, and coping as predictors of posttraumatic stress reactions in youth survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 37(3), 564-574. doi:10.1080/15374410802148228.

Weems, C., Taylor, L., Cannon, M., Marino, R., Romano, D., Scott, B., et al. (2010). Post-traumatic stress, context, and the lingering effects of the Hurricane Katrina disaster among ethnic minority youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(1), 49-56. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9352-y.

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