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Case Study: Boston Bombing Caused PTSD in Child Witnesses

Child witnesses of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 2013 are more likely to have developed PTSD than those who didn’t witness the attack, according to a team of local psychiatrists from Boston University. Researchers found that the rates of PTSD among children who witnessed the attack were comparable to rates of PTSD among New York City schoolchildren following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Children Near the Bombings Affected, Study Finds

Local psychiatrists reported that, of the 460 parents who lived within a 25-mile radius of the bombings and manhunt, 11 percent reported symptoms of PTSD in their children. That’s about the same number of NYC schoolchildren who experienced PTSD symptoms following the 9/11 attacks. Of the kids themselves, about eight percent reported PTSD or other emotional problems following the Boston Marathon bombings.

Interestingly, not all of the children who suffered PTSD symptoms as a result of the bombings were present at the attacks. Some of them developed PTSD symptoms as a result of witnessing too much media coverage of the attacks and manhunt.

Study author Jonathan Comer, a member of the team of local psychiatrists who now teaches psychiatry and psychology at Florida International University in Miami, told Fox News, “Children near and far throughout the Boston area showed a range of mental health problems, not just PTSD symptoms. Exposure to the bombing itself and the manhunt events [on the media] were associated with considerable PTSD symptoms.”

Local Psychiatrists Say Kids Who Attended the Marathon More Likely to Develop PTSD

The Boston University study found that kids between the ages of four and 19 who were present at the Boston Marathon during the attacks were six times more likely to develop PTSD than those who didn’t attend the event. However, children who watched too much of the manhunt media coverage in the days following the bombing were also at a greater risk of developing PTSD symptoms. The manhunt lasted five days and required nearly one million Bostonians in the Watertown area to shelter-in-place.

As one of the best local psychiatrists at the time of the bombing, Professor Comer treated many of the children affected by the events of the Boston Marathon bombings and manhunt. “There was an enormous mental health toll associated with direct exposure,” he told NBC News. “And there also was a toll with kids exposed to the manhunt, which was an unfolding and uncontained situation that lasted much longer than the bombing itself.”

Kids Exposed to Manhunt Developed Additional Problems

Comer and other local psychiatrists in Boston found that while kids who were present during the bombing itself were most likely to have developed PTSD symptoms, kids who were exposed to the activities of the manhunt developed other problems. Some of the other issues included acting-out behaviors, emotional troubles, hyperactivity, problems paying attention and peer conflict issues.

“Our work shows that children’s reactions to such community problems is often more broad-based than PTSD,” Comer said.

Turn Off the TV

Ultimately, many local psychiatrists who worked with the victims now recommend that kids not be exposed to media coverage of local terror attacks or other events, especially if those events are happening in the kids’ own neighborhoods. Kids in the families surveyed watched 1.5 hours of media coverage of the attack and manhunt on the day of the event, with more than 20 percent watching more than three hours of coverage. Two-thirds of families didn’t try at all to control their children’s exposure to the media coverage of the events.

While most kids are psychologically and emotionally resilient enough to withstand the trauma of terrorist attacks and other such events, the best course of action is to turn off the TV and not allow kids to watch media coverage of these events. Even a small amount of exposure to media coverage can traumatize children, even those children who were not present at the attacks themselves. Some kids could develop lasting psychological problems as a result of exposure to media coverage of terror attacks and similar events.

Call Proliance Center today at 561-338-7725 to learn more about our child psychiatry services in Boca Raton, FL.

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