Study: Among Kids At 2013 Marathon, 11 Percent Show Signs Of PTSD

This just out in the journal Pediatrics: A survey of Boston-area parents finds that the 2013 marathon bombings left about 11 percent of children who attended the race reporting post-traumatic stress, a rate six times higher than kids who did not attend the marathon.

Of particular note: exposure to the "manhunt" — which I recall in my civilian way as "the lockdown" — "was more robustly associated with children’s broad mental health problems than exposure to the attack itself." (Maternal thought: Well, yes, telling children it's not considered safe to go outside their own homes? What better reinforcer of anxiety?)

The press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Research has documented the psychosocial toll of terrorism on young people, but most of that work has focused on large-scale attacks like Sept. 11. A new study in the July 2014 Pediatrics, “Adjustment Among Area Youth After the Boston Marathon Bombing and Subsequent Manhunt,” published online June 2, examines how young people in the Boston area were affected by the 2013 bombing at the marathon, a civilian family event, and the subsequent manhunt that impacted nearly 1 million Boston-area residents.

Researchers surveyed 460 parents of children who lived within 25 miles of the marathon or Watertown. About 11 percent of surveyed children who attended the marathon reported posttraumatic stress, a rate comparable to that found among New York City school children six months after Sept. 11. This proportion of youth with PTSD was roughly 6 times higher among youth who attended the marathon than youth who did not attend the event. Children watched an average of 1.5 hours of television coverage on the attack day, and 21 percent of children watched more than three hours. Only about a third of parents tried to restrict children’s exposure to coverage of the attack and manhunt.

Among surveyed families, exposure to the manhunt was more robustly associated with children’s broad mental health problems than exposure to the attack itself. According to the study authors, the findings can help identify youth in greatest need of clinical attention following a traumatic event such as terrorist attack. The study demonstrates that the community responses that follow an attack can also have considerable impact on children’s psychological well-being.

The full paper is here. Readers, surprised? Not surprised? Thoughts?

Update: WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports:

460 parents responded to a Boston University survey. They reported the highest stress among children who saw dead bodies. Children affected by the hunt for the alleged bombers also experienced emotional problems, even if they only watched events on TV, says lead author Jonathan Comer (who is now an Associate Professor of psychology and psychiatry at Florida International University in Miami).

"It's always best for children to learn breaking news from their loved ones," he said. "It's less preferable when children are learning it from strangers or the news media, which often can be even more traumatiz[ing] and accentuate the uncertainty."

Comer says children inclined to respond with kindness and those who kept a regular school or social routine were less likely to experience PTSD.

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Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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