Topic 1 Introduction

During mass-casualty events, one-third of the victims will be children (UNISDR, 2007). Those events range from severe weather events linked to climate change and environmental pollution (e.g., floods, earthquakes, cyclones, wildfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions), over industrial accidents (chemical spills, gas leaks, explosions, fire, and water problems) and diseases, through war-related or economic displacements, and terrorist attacks producing health emergencies and crisis situations.

Health emergencies and crisis situations affect children and adolescents more profoundly than adults. They may have concerns regarding their own safety and the safety of their caregivers, but also their peers and other community members. Children observe what is happening, but also how their caregivers are behaving and reacting to stress. They may talk about their worries and feelings or might behave differently as a reaction to the stress that they are feeling. If they behave in a manner that seriously affects their ability to successfully perform at school and their peer relationships, they are not being “bad”. Rather they have a problem managing their feeling of stress and anxiety.

Their symptoms might range from mild to severe, and can appear for shorter or longer periods of time. It is important to recognize the early signs and symptoms of emotional and behavioural problems because early prevention is important in minimizing the risk of children developing significant mental health problems. With continuing help and support, most children and adolescents eventually return to their typical functioning.