Children's reactions to a natural disaster: symptom severity and degree of exposure


Self-report data for 5,687 children ranging in age from 9 to 19 years were collected approximately three months after Hurricane Hugo devastated the rural community where the children lived. Information about the children's perceptions of hurricane severity, degree of home damage suffered as a result of the hurricane, and hurricane-related parental job loss was used to categorize children into four levels of hurricane exposure. Reports of anxiety were obtained via the Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale (RCMAS) and reports of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were obtained via the Reaction Index (RI). Significantly higher anxiety scores and significantly more PTSD symptomatology was found for children experiencing more or more severe exposure to the hurricane. Girls reported more anxiety and PTSD symptoms than boys, and black children were more likely than the white children to report PTSD symptomatology. Additionally, girls were more severely affected by increasing levels of hurricane exposure as indicated by their RI scores. These results indicate that, similar to adult and child victims of crime and adult victims of disaster, the development of PTSD symptoms in children exposed to a natural disaster is a function of the degree of exposure to the traumatic event. The results also suggest that children's trait negative affectivity may moderate the effects of exposure on the development of PTSD symptoms. © 1991.

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Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy