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School-Based Intervention for the Treatment of Tsunami-Related Distress in Children: A Quasi-Randomized Controlled Trial

Berger R.a, c · Gelkopf M.b–d
aDepartment of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University, Be’er Sheba, bDepartment of Community Mental Health, Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, cNATAL, Israel Center for the Victims of Trauma and War, Tel Aviv, and dLev Hasharon Mental Health Center, Pardessia, Israel Psychother Psychosom 2009;78:364–371 (DOI:10.1159/000235976)

Abstract

Background: On December 26, 2004, a tsunami hit the southern coast of Sri Lanka, leaving thousands dead and injured. Previous research has found significant mental health problems among children exposed to major disasters. School-based universal interventions have shown promise in alleviating distress and posttraumatic symptomatology in children and adolescents. This study evaluated the efficacy of a school-based intervention in reducing stress-related symptomatology among Sri Lankan children exposed to the tsunami. Methods: In a quasi-randomized controlled trial 166 elementary school students (ages 9–15) with significant levels of tsunami exposure and previous traumatic background were randomly assigned to a 12-session structured program ‘ERASE Stress Sri Lanka’ (ES-SL) or to a waiting list (WL) religious class control group. Students were assessed 1 week prior and 3 months after the intervention on measures of posttraumatic symptomatology [including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and severity of posttraumatic symptomatology], depression, functional problems, somatic problems and hope. Results: This study shows a significant reduction on all outcome variables. PTSD severity, functional problems, somatic complaints, depression and hope scores were all significantly improved in the ES-SL group compared to the WL group. No new cases of PTSD were observed in the experimental group. Conclusion: This study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting the efficacy of school-based universal approaches in helping children in regions touched by war, terror and disaster and suggests the need to adopt a two-stage approach toward dealing with trauma-exposed students, namely, starting with a universal intervention followed by targeted specialized interventions for those still suffering from posttraumatic distress.

 

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