The relationship between maternal psychopathology and parental perceptions of their children’s reactions in survivors of the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya

BACKGROUND: The increase in terrorism worldwide has stimulated research on directly and indirectly exposed survivors, but there have been few investigations of the children of highly exposed survivors. This study examined the relationship between parental psychopathology and outcomes in their children who were exposed indirectly to a terrorist incident through their parents’ exposures.

METHODS: Eight to 10 months after the 1998 US Embassy bombing in Nairobi, Kenya, 280 survivors were interviewed about themselves and their 611 children using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for DSM-IV to perform a full diagnostic assessment of survivors’ pre- and post-disaster psychiatric disorders. The Disaster Supplement was used to obtain information about the survivors’ demographics and disaster experiences and their children’s disaster-related experiences.

RESULTS: Survivors who experienced high rates of post-disaster psychiatric disorders reported that their children had low levels of disasterrelated posttraumatic stress symptoms, post-disaster behavior problems, and changes in school functioning. Only maternal psychopathology predicted adverse outcomes in survivors’ children.

CONCLUSIONS: The relationship between maternal psychopathology and youth outcomes has important clinical implications. Clinicians working with disaster survivors should ask individuals about their children routinely, refer family members—including children—for assessment and services as indicated, and offer child-oriented and/or family-focused interventions when appropriate.

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