Disasters and Depressive Symptoms in Children: A Review

Betty S. Lai, Beth A. Auslander, Stephanie L. Fitzpatrick, Valentina Podkowirow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Disasters are destructive, potentially traumatic events that affect millions of youth each year. Objective: The purpose of this paper was to review the literature on depressive symptoms among youth after disasters. Specifically, we examined the prevalence of depression, risk factors associated with depressive symptoms, and theories utilized in this research area. Methods: We searched MEDLINE, PsycInfo, and PubMed electronic databases for English language articles published up to May 1, 2013. Reference lists from included studies were reviewed to capture additional studies. Only quantitative, peer reviewed studies, conducted with youth under the age of 18 years, that examined postdisaster depressive symptoms were included. Seventy-two studies met inclusion criteria. Prevalence of depressive symptoms, disaster type, correlates of depressive symptoms, and theories of depressive symptoms were reviewed. Results: Only 27 studies (38 %) reported on prevalence rates among youth in their sample. Prevalence rates of depression among youth postdisaster ranged from 2 to 69 %. Potential risk factors were identified (e.g., female gender, exposure stressors, posttraumatic stress symptoms). Theories were examined in less than one-third of studies (k = 21). Conclusions: Given the variability in prevalence rates, difficulty identifying a single profile of youth at risk for developing depressive symptoms, and lack of a unifying theory emerging from the studies, recommendations for future research are discussed. Use of established batteries of assessments could enable comparisons across studies. Merging existing theories from children's postdisaster and depression literatures could aid in the identification of risk factors and causal pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-504
Number of pages16
JournalChild and Youth Care Forum
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Children
  • Depression
  • Disaster
  • Review
  • Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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