With so much focus lately on Hurricane Isaac, which occurred in the Gulf Coast, some scientists have been thinking about the impact this natural disaster will have on children in terms of stress levels and other potential mental complications.

In an attempt to learn which kids are the most susceptible for high stress responses in the storm’s aftermath, Dr. Annette M. La Greca, a professor of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Miami, and her team of colleagues have taken it upon themselves to study kids’ reactions in a disaster by monitoring the kids’ reactions after Hurricanes Andrew (1992), Charley (2004) and Ike (2008). What they found is that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the side effects that children develop after major disasters like these.

This new study found that PTSD and depression are a common side effect in children. Both conditions are often treated with medications like Paxil and Effexor, which can be very dangerous. The problem with these medications is that they can cause serious side effects that can be just as deadly as the hurricanes. For example, violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior have been linked to antidepressants like Paxil and Effexor. These antidepressants have also been linked to birth defects in babies who are exposed to the drugs in-utero.

When kids develop PTSD and/or depression, it is particularly sad for their families and friends. For the scientists involved in this study, they wanted to determine which kids were more likely to develop PTSD or depression so that parents may be able to help their kids to better cope with these stresses.

“Children may have to move or change schools. Their neighborhood may not be safe for outdoor play and they may not be able to spend time with their friends. Children need help coping with these and other post-disaster stressors,” La Greca says.

In an effort to help parents, La Greca, along with Scott and Elaine Sevin, have created a workbook that is designed to help parents teach their kids to cope after a disaster. The “After the Storm” workbook is available for free at http://www.7-dippity.com. This study is slated to be published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.