BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – According to one statistic, by 2020, just over five million children in the U.S. had been diagnosed with anxiety problems and a little over two million had been diagnosed with depression.

Children who experience traumatic events may deal with lingering effects of depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and anxiety for years to come.

A 2021 article from Very Well Mind that shed light on Hurricane Katrina’s impact on children in Louisiana stated that thousands of children who survived the hurricane were surveyed and researchers discovered that, “Most had been displaced by the hurricane, had seen their neighborhood destroyed or damaged, and had lost personal belongings.  In addition, around a third had been separated from a caregiver and/or a pet during the storm or evacuation. Children also reported, to a lesser extent, seeing family members or friends injured or killed.”

In view of the many ways in which these children’s lives were upended, the researchers concluded that, “it makes sense that many experienced severe symptoms of depression and PTSD. In fact, this study found that about half of the children experienced high levels of depression and PTSD symptoms.”

In recent years, a number of Louisiana children have been impacted by floods, other hurricanes, and by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This may lead parents and caregivers to wonder what measures they can take to help children work through trauma and heal.

Though BRProud is not a medical journal and readers in need of healthcare are encouraged to seek professional advice from a physician, three suggestions from experts are listed below.

These ideas may be used as food for thought as parents and caregivers approach certified healthcare providers for assistance.

1/ Cope with your own traumatic stress

According to Help Guide, since children typically look to their caregivers as role models, a child’s reaction to a traumatic experience is often influenced by the way their caregivers respond to the incident.

As this is the case, the article suggests, “If you experienced the traumatic event alongside your child, it’s crucial to take steps to cope with your own traumatic stress… by taking care of your own emotional health and well-being, you’ll be more of a calming influence and better able to help your child. Since the childhood impulse to imitate is strong, if your child sees you taking steps to cope with the effects of the trauma, they’re likely to follow.”

2/ Encourage open discussion about the triggering event

Without pressuring a child to talk, parents and guardians can take steps to encourage children to talk to them about the traumatic event and about what they’re feeling.

The Child Mind Institute advises, “Children may have questions on more than on occasion. Let them know you are ready to talk at any time. Children need to digest information on their own timetable and questions might come out of nowhere.”

It also suggests gathering as a family to discuss the traumatic event, saying, “When families can talk and feel sad together, it’s more likely that kids will share their feelings.”

So, by being approachable and patient, caregivers can encourage children to ask any questions on their minds and openly discuss their feelings, two practices that are key to mental and emotional well-being.

3/ Create a safe home environment

When it comes to natural disasters, there may be certain aspects of life that parental figures have little to no control of. Outside of these areas of life, many mental health professionals agree that it’s beneficial for caregivers to establish a routine for children that makes them feel safe and assures them their needs will be met.

This is important as some anxiety stems from a fear of the unknown. Establishing a pattern of life that involves a dependable routine may help to dispel this kind of anxiety.

In this regard, Psychology Today says, “Creating a safe environment begins with ensuring that basic needs—such as proper nutrition, sleep, and access to medical care—are met.”

In describing what such an environment would be like, the article adds, “A safe environment entails being purposeful and consistent in routines, structure, praise, and consequences. This provides a sense of security in understanding expectations and in knowing what to expect.”

In Louisiana, professional mental health assistance can be found at the agencies listed below:

  • Louisiana Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health (LAFFCMH): (225) 293-3508
  • Mental Health America of Louisiana: (800) 241-6425
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)- Louisiana Chapter: (225) 926-8770

Hopefully, Louisiana’s parents and guardians can work with healthcare professionals in implementing suggestions similar to the three listed above.

In so doing, local children who’ve survived traumatic experiences may be able to find the strength to continue moving forward.