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Linda Chokroverty, MD, discusses the significance of timing, communication and care coordination when children are affected by disasters or trauma.
Disaster psychiatry is coming into its own as an informal subspecialty, warranted by the increasing prevalence of natural weather events and societal turbulence.
How these events affect younger generations not only acutely, but in their long-term development, may be dictated by the response of a disaster psychiatry care team.
In the second segment of an interview with HCPLive during the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2022 Annual Meeting in New Orleans this week, Linda Chokroverty, MD, child psychiatrist and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, discussed the importance of timely and coordinated psychiatric care in children impacted by disasters and trauma.
“That really starts at the family and school level—trying to educate parents and teachers about how children react to different situation,” Chokroverty said. “Younger children in particular may have misunderstandings of what happens if there’s, say, a storm.”
With psychological development being critical in early years of exposure to such events, Chokroverty stressed the severe reactions children may have to disasters—increased fear and anxiety, and a desire to avoid social gatherings or school are among the more common effects.
“They may not want to leave home because they think something terrible is going to happen all the time,” she said. “So psychoeducation is one of our most important tools as psychiatrists in our daily work—both in and out of disasters.”
Regarding the pediatric disaster psychiatry care team itself, Chokroverty emphasized clear communication among all impactful adults: parents and guardians, primary care providers, teachers, and specialists. They key is to ensure the focal point of care—the parents—are provided appropriate resources and clear education.
“They’re the best equipped to help their children,” Chokroverty said. “Importantly, we do want to help parents understand what they communicate to their children is important—and what they don’t communicate to their children can also be important or even a problem. If they don’t explain things to children, then they’re going to have more misunderstandings and stress, and that’s preventable.”
Lastly, Chokroverty reminded her colleagues to consider additional circumstances which may make a young individual more susceptible to mental health impact following disasters: those who have lost parents or guardians, those with developmental disabilities or a mental illness, and those with prior trauma, to name a few groups. She also emphasized the impact of cultural, racial and socioeconomic context in disaster response.
“If they’re more disadvantaged to begin with, they’re going to have a lot more struggle to try and recuperate after having a major setback like COVID-19, mass violence or a major natural disaster event,” she said.