Trauma and recovery after natural disasters

Trauma and recovery in youth after natural disasters

Last week’s earthquake in southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria shocked the world. The number of lost lives and those injured still continues to rise. Our sincere sympathy and solidarity go out to everyone affected and we offer our condolences to the bereaved families and the injured. 

Following the disaster, we have seen National, European, International NGOs as well as communities and individuals coming together to provide financial help and support on the ground. We are grateful for all these valuable efforts which also contribute to enabling returning to a certain degree of normalcy. As the first rescue teams are now pulling out, we want to stress how important it is to offer long-term support in these situations. 

While the initial focus of the rescue has been on physically assisting the victims, the psychological consequences of such tragedies are immense and must not be ignored. Not least, as we are seeing a rise in natural disasters across Europe, it’s necessary that we develop processes to address these issues and offer immediate psychological support, especially to children and adolescents. 

In 2021, the Scoping review On trauma and recovery in youth after natural disasters: what Europe can learn from natural disasters around the world was published in European Child + Adolescent Psychiatry, the official journal of ESCAP, by Witt, Sachser and Fegert. The study aims to synthesize the literature on child development in immediate stress, prolonged reactions, trauma, and recovery after natural disasters with a special focus on trajectories of (mal-)adaptation. It is based on 15 studies reporting about 11 independent samples, including 11,519 participants aged 3–18 years. It highlights the importance of assessments to identify high-risk populations and recommends a stepped care approach to address the needs of children exposed to natural disasters. 

In situations like these, children need some kind of daily routine as soon as possible. To facilitate this, continued support from NGOs and professional organizations is needed. The ESCAP Board and Policy Division are grateful that so many people have donated for the direct support of children with food, learning materials, toys and warm clothing. It will be a long way until normality returns, and in any case, what has been experienced cannot be undone.

The media, which are now reporting on this situation, are making an important contribution to the collective memory, because the young people who are affected will be looking for an explanation of this part of their life story, in which some of them lost their closest relatives.

As professional and volunteer helpers, we need to develop preparedness strategies so that the necessary psychosocial support in the future can reach its goal as well as the direct rescuers who searched for and helped survivors under the rubble did.

Signed by:
Jörg Fegert (ESCAP Policy Division Chair), the ESCAP board: Maeve Doyle, Stephan Eliez, Johannes Hebebrand, Manon Hillegers, Pieter Hoekstra, Anne-Marie Råberg Christensen, Andreas Karwautz, Eniko Kiss, Konstantinos Kotsis, Milica Pejovic-Milovancevic, Jean-Philippe Raynaud; ESCAP Policy Division members, Dimitris Anagnostopoulos (ESCAP President)


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP):

Talking to Children about Natural Disasters 

Talking to Children about Earthquakes & Other Natural Disasters

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention:

Caring for Children in a Disaster

US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

Children and Disasters

Behavioral Health Conditions in Children and Youth Exposed to Natural Disasters

KidsHealth (a joint initiative between The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation):

Coping With A Natural Disaster

US National Association of School Psychologists:

Large-Scale Natural Disasters: Helping Children Cope

US National Child Traumatic Stress Network:

Parent Guidelines for Helping Children after an Earthquake

Teacher Guidelines for Helping Students after an Earthquake

Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service (Australia):

Recovering Together after a Natural Disaster - Earthquake


Witt, A., Sachser, C. & Fegert, J.M. Scoping review on trauma and recovery in youth after natural disasters: what Europe can learn from natural disasters around the world. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2022).

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Blanc J, Eugene D, Louis EF, Cadichon JM, Joseph J, Pierre A, Laine R, Alexandre M, Huang KY. Mental Health Among Children Older than 10 Years Exposed to the Haiti 2010 Earthquake: a Critical Review. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2020 Sep 2;22(11):57. doi: 10.1007/s11920-020-01178-9. PMID: 32876808; PMCID: PMC8020445.

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Michael G. Madianos & Koukia Evi (2010) Trauma and Natural Disaster: The Case of Earthquakes in Greece, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 15:2, 138-150, DOI: 10.1080/15325020903373185