Therapists and social scientists have been trying to characterize the effects of all variety of traumas on children for more than a century. They have found no equations, no way to predict who will be laid low, who will adjust or who will become stronger.
NEW ORLEANS — The children upended by Hurricane Katrina have no psychological playbook for the youngsters displaced by Harvey, or those in the path of Irma, the hurricane that spun through the Caribbean and Florida.
In the aftermath of Harvey, more than 160 public-school districts and 30 charter schools have closed in the sprawling Houston metropolitan area. Families have scrambled to higher ground, some to other cities like Dallas or San Antonio, others into shelters.
Thousands of children will have to adjust on the fly, bused for hours to new schools from makeshift housing. Texas officials are scrambling to coordinate mental-health support; the state’s psychology board is issuing temporary licenses for out-of-state therapists.
In a series of interviews here in New Orleans, 12 years after Katrina’s devastating floods, young survivors, now in their early 20s, agreed only that overcoming the mental strain of displacement is like escaping the rising water itself — a matter of finding something to hold onto, one safe place or reliable person, each time you move.
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Everything else is up for grabs, including the meaning of home itself. “I was so homesick I moved back here soon as I could, right after graduating high school,” Craig Jones, 22, a freelance graphic designer and musician, said in an interview near Pigeon Town, the working-class neighborhood of modest homes, diners and shaded porches where he grew up. “I got here and it was the same place but not the same, if you feel what I’m saying.”
A fifth-grader when Katrina hit, he spent the intervening years on the move, living in hotel rooms and finally settling in Houston with his family. When he moved back to New Orleans in his late teens, the streets of his childhood had a new mix of people and an undercurrent of menace he couldn’t place. He became anxious; then began having panic attacks, seemingly at random. He was homesick.
“I was walking around with my eyes bugged out,” he said. “They wanted to put me on Xanax, but I wanted no part of that.” He moved away for a time and the anxiety subsided.
Therapists and social scientists…