During his address in the wake of last Friday’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama lamented that the children who survived the shooting have had their innocence “torn away from them too early.” As this latest tragedy has highlighted America’s underfunded and inadequate mental health system, some do wonder if the trauma from the shooting will leave those survivors with long-term mental and emotional health problems.
But according to the New York Times, even young children are mentally resilient, and the available empirical data suggests that the survivors of Sandy Hook will be emotionally stable in the end:
“Most kids, even of this age, are resilient,” said Dr. Glenn Saxe, chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The data shows that the majority of people after a trauma, including a school assault, will end up doing O.K.”
In a 2007 Duke University study that psychiatrists say is nationally representative, only 13 percent of people who had experienced a traumatic event before age 16 developed symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and less than 1 percent developed “full-blown” PTSD. Over all, more than two-thirds of the 1,420 children surveyed reported experiencing some kind of trauma.
“Like recovering from surgery, you could end up with a scar, and depending on the surgery it could be a big one,” said Dr. Don Bechtold, medical director of the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Wheat Ridge, Colo. “People get better — the extent of what ‘better’ means is relative.”
It is difficult to predict exactly how such trauma might manifest itself in shooting survivors’ mental health, but it is possible to improve the mental health treatment available to them. Mental health services have been the target of budget and benefit cuts year after year in America — particularly during the recession — leading many Americans to resort to the public education or penal systems to access those services. Furthermore, studies estimate that a full 70 percent of children who need mental health care do not receive it.