There is a common misconception that children are more apt to bounce back from a difficult experience, but Dr. Adam Brown, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone, says that parents ought to “be paying close attention.”
“Most people, adults and children, are resilient,” he tells The Post. “That being said, 15% to 40% of humans,” — the percentage of people thought to meet the criteria for PTSD after a traumatic event — “is still a lot of people at risk of developing traumatic stress responses.”
A new report from London-based advocacy group the Childhood Trust is shining a light on how disadvantaged and marginalized children are especially susceptible to traumatic and post-traumatic stress as a result of a global pandemic.
Laurence Guinness, chief executive of the organization, anecdotally claims that many children have had “vivid nightmares” of illness and death during the outbreak — a symptom of PTSD, he told the BBC.
“The rising death tolls being reported every day — these kids have seen all of that and internalized it,” he said.
The report outlines several ways that restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are having a greater impact on at-risk children.
“We have engaged directly with children and families living in poverty who have been severely affected by this crisis,” the report states. “Families who were already enduring hard, challenging lives have had to survive lockdown in the most appalling circumstances. For children in poverty, the crisis has multiplied the impact of the adversities they endure, such as hunger, fear, isolation and stigma.”
Factors such as domestic abuse and poor access to food, education, health care and recreation are all amplified by social-distancing measures and economic recession in dire times such as these. Social distancing makes it more difficult for parents to seek medical treatment for their children, while poverty and hunger are made worse by an economic recession.
“Most of us are not experiencing trauma,” says Dr. Brown. But “children who … have watched people close to them die may experience these events as traumatic.”
Dr. Brown outlined the signs of traumatic stress in a recent article.
“Worry, confusion or sadness” would be expected during a “frightening” event, Brown wrote. But some “emotional and behavioral reactions might indicate traumatic stress,” which could lead to post-traumatic stress in the future. He says “current stressors,” meaning the outbreak, “are ongoing.”
Brown focuses on younger children, aged 10 and under, in his own report, and points to symptoms such as intrusive thoughts and nightmares; anxious behaviors such as bed-wetting and irritability; an inability to focus or forgetfulness; and physical manifestations of fear, such as stomachaches and difficulty sleeping.
For most children exhibiting traumatic stress, “these symptoms will likely resolve within a few days or weeks, while some may have a more lasting impact,” Brown says. But whether a child is in need of treatment can be hard to determine during a prolonged event, such as the current pandemic, “so if in doubt, consult with a professional,” he writes.