Among the many lessons learned during the 2017 Hurricane season, we recognized that addressing children’s mental and behavioral health needs is a major concern in hurricane-affected areas.
CDC’s At Risk Task Force (ARTF) was established in 2017 to ensure identification and prioritization of the mental and physical health needs of at-risk populations, including children. ARTF’s first Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activation was on Aug. 31, 2017, in response to Hurricane Harvey, the first of three consecutive hurricanes to hit the United States and its territories in a five-week period. ARTF’s mission was to address the needs of at-risk populations in affected areas throughout the response and recovery phases.
Early in the response, it became clear that the emotional impact of the storms and the mental health needs of people, particularly children, affected were a critical area of focus. ARTF worked closely with federal and non-government agencies to address these needs so that children and families had the best chance for recovery.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The theme this year is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World. In light of this, we want to share our experiences to inform mental health interventions and improve outcomes for children after public health emergencies and natural disasters. First, let’s talk about what makes children more vulnerable in emergencies.
Why are children more vulnerable in emergencies?
Mental stress from a disaster can be harder on children.
Children are more vulnerable in emergencies because of their physical, developmental, behavioral, and emotional differences from adults. Children may have difficulty or may not be able to communicate symptoms or feelings. They may understand less about the situation and feel less able to control the events around them.
The aftermath of an emergency or disaster is also difficult for children because they have less experience coping with difficult situations.
The emotional impact of an emergency depends on a child’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the family and their community, and the availability of local resources. Other factors may influence the emotional impact on children, causing them to be more vulnerable in emergencies. These include children with mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders. Children who have experienced trauma in the past may also have more difficulty coping with a disaster.