Signs of trauma aren’t a surprise for those who studied people after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Damage in Mexico Beach was similar to that in southern Mississippi, where entire communities were flattened by wind and storm surge, and Panama City could take years to rebuild, as did parts of New Orleans after the metro area flooded.
Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University observed widespread, long-lasting psychological effects after Katrina. One study found that, five years after the storm, parents reported more than 37 percent of children had been clinically diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or a behavior disorder.
Redlener says that’s in part because parents are overwhelmed and are less able to buffer their children from bad experiences.
“They survived a major catastrophic event, which is good. But everything they knew is gone,” he said.
Research scientist David Murphey said children look to their parents for cues as how to respond to completely new and frightening situations.
“If they see parents kind of falling apart at the seams, that’s going to create anxiety for the children as well,” said Murphey.
Dr. Emily Harville, an associate professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, said most people will be back to where they were within a year or so, but others will have difficulty for a longer period.
“There will be a small group that continues to have long-term mental health issues,” she said.