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NewsHealth and Fitness

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Experts Discuss Effects of Trauma on Children

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By James Lomuscio

George Hagman, director of outpatient services at Greater Bridgeport Community Mental Health Center, was part of a trauma team sent to Newtown shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre to counsel children at another town elementary school. What he found, he said, was heartbreaking.

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Christina Hoven addresses tonight’s meeting on children and trauma at the Westport Public Library. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

“It had been many years since I worked with children,” he said about his time at Newtown’s Middle Gate Elementary School. “It broke my heart to see how pained and troubled they were.”

Hagman was one of two featured speakers tonight at a Westport Public Library talk titled “The Aftermath of Trauma in Children: Helping Newtown and Lessons from 9/11.” 

The other speaker was Christina Hoven, associate professor of clinical epidemiology in psychiatry at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Hoven, was a key Investigator of the 2002 study, “Effects of The World Trade Center Attacks on New York City Public School Students,” an epidemiological study on 8,236 New York City students that is credited with being the first of its kind following a major disaster.

The talk sponsored by St. Vincent’s Behavioral Health Services, Westport-Weston Health District, and the Fairfield-Litchfield Connecticut Psychiatric Society drew 55 to the library’s McManus Room.

Hagman held the audience rapt when recalling a young boy who had been depressed and withdrawn following the Sandy Hook shootings.

“He said, ‘I can’t help thinking about the children, all the dead children,’” Hagman recalled. “He was haunted that he could be next. His sense of safety had been shattered into a million pieces.”

But after the young boy spoke about his fears, “his mood improved,” Hagman said, and after several sessions he was on his way to recovery.

Hagman’s advice is that adults, who are also reeling from trauma, not try to hide the events from children, but talk about it honestly. The very things adults are trying to shelter children from are the very things they are thinking and feeling, Hagman said.

Hoven, who conducted her study of students ages 5 through 17 in 94 New York City public schools from February to March of 2002, noted that significant percentages of students, 8 to 12 percent, even those far from Ground Zero, suffered post traumatic stress disorders, depression, separation anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia six months after Sept. 11, 2001.

Girls, she said, were more significantly affected, as were children in lower grade groups. She also said that children of first responders and those from lower income areas suffered the most.

Hoven noted that children were not the only ones affected, but entire families, which exacerbated the trauma on children. Ironically, she said, children close to Ground Zero fared better over time since more counseling services were targeted at those schools.

She said her study resulted in an initial $33 million in federal aid for intervention, “and $120 million after that.”

“The message that I want you to know is that the entire community is at risk,” she said. “They all have to be paid attention to, the teachers, the aides, the janitors, as well as the children.

“Think about everybody in your community,” she added, “because it did not just affect children.”

Posted 04/24 at 12:03 AM 

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