5 December 1999

Post- traumatic stress syndrome in kids

by Kate Melville

In an interesting study researchers from Necker-Enfants-Malades Hospital in Paris from Children studied a group of 26 first and third grade students who were held hostage in a school classroom.

During the siege the gunman kept the students' hostage for two hours and threatened several while thankfully none were injured. According to Gilbert Vila, MD one of the authors, "In children, post-traumatic stress disorders often seem to have a protracted course, even after a single trauma".

The 18 month study concluded that almost all of the students (96 percent) had visible symptoms of acute post event stress, and that approximately half continued to experience post-traumatic stress symptoms throughout the whole 18-month study period (seven children -27 percent - were diagnosed as having full-blown post-traumatic stress disorders).

Researchers also followed up 21 students who were not hostages, but who were in the school on the day of the seige. 40 percent of this group of students also had symptoms of post-traumatic stress four months after the event, and three were eventually diagnosed as having a full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The fact that children indirectly involved in a traumatic event are at risk of developing a post-traumatic stress disorder pleads in favor of a broader application of therapeutic services to all 'involved' children," said Vila. "The natural course of the disorder and the availability of useful therapeutic programs suggest that it is worthwhile and necessary to maintain monitoring at least six months after the traumatic event," he added.

In recent years American schools have experienced a significant increase in on-campus violence with guns and particularly violent siege situations. It would be interesting to see if there has been any similar research carried out that might be used to build on this European research?