A single disaster, terrorist attack, or other large-scale incident can adversely affect thousands of youth and families. Immediate consequences may include unmet basic needs and high economic burden to families. Disasters also can dramatically affect family routines, marital stress, parent-child interactions, and, more broadly, family roles and relationships. Whereas most youth are resilient (i.e., do not develop serious mental or physical health problems) in the aftermath of disasters, various problems of public health significance are prevalent, such as PTSD, depression, and substance abuse. This underscores the need for effective, widely accessible, and cost-efficient interventions that foster resilience or rapid recovery secondary to the health effects of disasters. To date, few evidence-based early interventions have been developed. Children and adolescents are underrepresented in disaster research, and disaster- affected families have insufficient access to evidence-based resources. Few early interventions have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation;fewer have targeted youth. Further, many efficacious self-help and Web-based interventions exist for the general population, but none exist for disaster-affected youth and families. Recently, our research team developed and explored the feasibility of a Web-delivered, education-based intervention for adults designed to reduce risk for prevalent mental health and health-risk consequences of disasters. Results of our pilot study with 325 New York City-area adults two years after the September 11th terrorist attacks supported the feasibility and potential utility of Web-based educational approaches post- disaster. The primary aims of the proposed project are to (a) develop a Web-based intervention for disaster-affected adolescents and parents targeting health-related correlates of disasters (i.e., development phase), (b) conduct a randomized controlled population-based study to examine feasibility and preliminary efficacy of the intervention with 3,000 disaster-affected adolescents and their parents (i.e., RCT phase), (c) refine the intervention based on feasibility and efficacy data, and (d) prepare for larger-scale research in the acute post-disaster phase. Our strategy to target a wide range of symptom presentations, as well as both subthreshold and diagnostic levels, is consistent with public health recommendations based on findings indicating benefits in terms of reduced health costs and positive outcomes associated with evidence- informed early interventions.

Public Health Relevance

Disasters occur often in the U.S. and can negatively affect thousands of families simultaneously. The mental health consequences of disasters are significant, but few resources are available for youth and families to help them learn about healthy coping strategies and services that might be available to them in their communities. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate an online, self-help resource for adolescents and parents who are affected by disasters. The self-help resource will be educational, highly interactive and engaging, and will be designed to reduce risk for the development of mental health problems after a disaster, such as posttraumatic stress reactions, depression, and alcohol and drug-use problems.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Tuma, Farris K
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Medical University of South Carolina
Schools of Medicine
United States
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