In a week that begins with the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and ends with this year’s race, children may be vulnerable to having a recurrence of anxiety-related symptoms they experienced after the attack, mental health specialists caution.
Those directly affected by the events — because they knew someone killed or injured, attended the Marathon, or experienced the lockdown as police searched for the bombing suspect — are most likely to have nightmares, to worry about going into crowded places, or to feel sad in the next several days.
The April 19 lockdown of residents of Watertown, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Newton, Somervile, and Waltham may have had the broadest impact on children. In January, Massachusetts General Hospital surveyed 400 parents of children ages 4 to 19 who lived in these areas and found that 1 in 5 children experienced anxiety symptoms within the first few weeks after the bombing and that 11 percent had symptoms that lingered for several months.
“These symptoms reported in our survey were more of a reaction to the lock-down than to the bombing itself,” said Dr. Paula Rauch, a child psychiatrist at Mass. General who led the survey, which has not yet been published in a medical journal. “A far greater number of children in the area were affected by the lockdown than were directly exposed to the explosions.”
Public school students were at the end of a vacation week and were told to shelter in place as police conducted a door-to-door search for bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. “Parents may have been tense, which added to their kids’ anxiety levels,” Rauch said, especially as reports of the shootout and killing of an MIT police officer filled the airwaves.
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