Trauma Has Long-Term Consequences For Young Children

Children who experience a sudden, unexpected traumatic event suffer long-term psychological consequences, even if the trauma was not very intense and they were not physically harmed. In children, post-traumatic stress disorders often seem to have a protracted course, even after a single trauma. Researchers studied a group of 26 first- and third-graders for 18 months after an armed man held them hostage for 2 hours at their school in the Paris suburbs. The man threatened the teacher and several students with a gun, and he threatened to blow up all the hostages. Beginning the day after this event, the children received group psychological counseling. During the study, which began 2 months after the event, a psychiatrist interviewed the students, and they completed questionnaires that assessed their psychological status.

The investigators also studied 21 third-graders from the same school who were not taken hostage, but were in the building at the time and thus were indirectly exposed to the violence.

One month after the incident, almost all of the children who had been taken hostage showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including anxiety, restlessness, and defiant behavior. In addition, two cases of major depression were diagnosed in this group.

Of the children who showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder a few weeks after the incident, about a third continued to have these symptoms 7 months and even 18 months later.

In the group of children who were not taken hostage, the percentage that showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress was just as high as in the hostage group. This was true at every time point studied: 4, 7, and 18 months after the incident. Even after a short event, and even if they are not directly exposed, children under the age of 9 years can develop high rates of post-traumatic disorders that follow a protracted course.

Psychosomatic Medicine November/December 1999;61:746-754.

COMMENT: This study cites an obvious emotional trauma. However, most of us are not exposed to armed gunman in our schools. We are nearly all exposed to emotional trauma inflicted on us by our home settings. It is my experience that these emotional conflicts, when unresolved, contribute to one of the major causes of chronic illness. Prayer is the highest level of resolution, but there are some therapies such as APN (see article section at ) that seem to be highly effective for providing effective resolutions of these problems.

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