Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Research needed to find treatments for traumatized kids

A flag displays the names of 26 victims killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 20, 2012. Doctors are studying how best to treat kids traumatized by horrific events.

Julio Cortez/AP

There's no good evidence on what types of treatment might help ward off anxiety and stress disorders in children and teens exposed to traumatic events such as mass shootings, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers writing in Pediatrics said that a few psychological interventions, including talk therapy and school-based programs, "appear promising" to help young people cope with the types of trauma resulting from things such as natural disasters and accidents as well as shootings.

But so far there are too many holes in the data to know what to recommend for children's long-term health and well-being, according to study leader Meera Viswanathan from RTI International in North Carolina.

Story continues below advertisement

"Sadly, the shootings in Newtown are unlikely to be the last that we see," Viswanathan said, referring to the December elementary school shootings that left 26 people dead and calling for more research. "We don't want to be in a position that we wish we had better evidence."

Viswanathan's team analyzed 26 studies in which children who had been exposed to non-relational trauma – acts committed by somebody they don't know – were assigned to a particular treatment intervention or a comparison group.

Depending on the trial, some of those children were already experiencing anxiety and other symptoms related to the trauma.

Treatment programs varied in their methods – from medication to talk therapy – as well as intensity and how long they lasted.

None of the studies found that antidepressants had a positive effect on children's mental health, but youths who went through some type of talk therapy tended to do better than others who weren't treated at all.

Nicole Nugent at Brown University said one difficulty is that children get exposed to many different types of trauma, and they have many different treatment needs.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to