Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 204-212

Prevalence of psychiatric disorder following the 1988 Yun Nan (China) earthquake

The first 5-month period
  • Hua CaoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, Flinders University of South Australia
  • , Alexander C. McFarlaneAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, AUS
  • , Steven KlimidisAffiliated withCentre for International Mental Health, University of Melbourne & Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, St. Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, AUS

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Background: There is a continuing need to examine the psychiatric impact of natural disasters for the development of an understanding of the determinants of morbid outcomes. The study of culturally distinct groups provides evidence as to the robustness of psychopathology emerging in the context of traumatic exposures. Method: In this study, 1294 people were examined at 5 months after the 1988 Yun Nan earthquake in order to explore the psychiatric impact of this disaster. They were assessed with a number of instruments, including the General Health Questionnaire (28-item version), the Life Event Inventory, and the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder section of the Diagnostic Interview Schedule. Three groups were examined according to their distance from the epicenter of the quake. Their responses were compared with an additional sample of 908 people from a general population living 520 kilometers away from the epicenter. Results: GHQ ‘caseness’ in the three disaster groups, from those closest to those more distant from the epicenter, were 60.4, 48.2 and 44.0%. These rates were significantly higher than the non-exposed control group (36.2). Among the three disaster groups, taking those who achieved GHQ ‘caseness’ criteria, the PTSD prevalence was 23, 13 and 16%, respectively. For the overall population experiencing the earthquake (the combined disaster group), a conservative estimate of disaster-related PTSD prevalence was 8.9%. Conclusion: The varied rate of morbidity (both general and PTSD-specific) could be attributed to the relative impact of the earthquake as represented by epicenter proximity and as measured by the rate of property damage and loss in the three earthquake-affected areas.

Key words Chinese – earthquake – epidemiology – psychiatric morbidity