Evidence lacking on what works best to help kids after trauma

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 US 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 wellbeing, according to study leader Meera Viswanathan from RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and colleagues.

"Sadly, the shootings in Newtown are unlikely to be the last that we see," Viswanathan told Reuters Health, 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 analysed 26 studies in which children who had been exposed to nonrelational 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 involving antidepressants found that the they had 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, who has studied stress disorders in children at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said one difficulty is that children get exposed to many different types of trauma, and as a result have many different treatment needs.

But the issue needs to be addressed despite a lack of evidence on what works, she said.

"One thing that we know doesn't work is nothing," she said."Something horrible happens, and (kids) think 'If I don't think about it, if I don't talk about it, it will go away.' And that absolutely doesn't happen."