Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 87, Issue 3, pp 504–523 | Cite as

Psychological Distress among Adolescents in Chengdu, Sichuan at 1 Month after the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

  • Joseph T. F. LauEmail author
  • Xiaonan Yu
  • Jianxin Zhang
  • Winnie W. S. Mak
  • Kai Chow Choi
  • Wacy W. S. Lui
  • Jianxin Zhang
  • Emily Y. Y. Chan


A devastating earthquake occurred on May 12, 2008 in Sichuan, China. This study investigated the prevalence and factors in association with psychological problems among secondary school students living in Chengdu (90 km away from the disaster epicenter) in June 2008. In a cross-sectional survey, 3,324 secondary students self-administered a structured questionnaire in classroom setting. Validated scales were used in this study. Among all respondents, 22.3% reported post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 22.6% were probable depression cases; 10.6% reported suicidal ideation; and 14.1% would like to receive psychological counseling. No gender differences were found. While social/emotional support from teachers or peers (OR from 0.40 to 0.78) and exposure to positive news reports (OR from 0.59 to 0.62) were found protective, prior experience of severe mental distress (OR from 1.60 to 2.68) and corporal punishment (OR from 1.31 to 1.58), worry about future aftershocks (OR from 1.64 to 3.11), absence from school when it was not closed (OR from 1.38 to 1.48), exposures to scary or sorrowful disaster media coverage (OR from 1.39 to 2.07), post-disaster visits to affected sites (OR from 1.51 to 1.59), separation from parents (OR = 1.61), etc., were risk factors predictive of some of the aforementioned psychological problems. Negative mental health impacts were prevalent among the respondents. Teachers, parents, and the mass media are all important in maintaining good mental health among adolescents that are indirectly affected by the severe earthquake. The results have important implications for earthquake preparedness and relief work in the future.


Depression Disaster Earthquake Post-traumatic stress disorder 



We sincerely thank the Multi-Health Systems in providing the Chinese version of Children’s Depression Inventory. The authors would also like to thank Mr. Liao Qiang (Hua Xi College of Public Health, Sichuan University) and Mr. Nelson Yeung (Centre for Health Behaviours Research, School of Public Health and Primary Care, the Chinese University of Hong Kong) for their assistance in this study.

Competing interests

None declared.


None declared.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joseph T. F. Lau
    • 1
    Email author
  • Xiaonan Yu
    • 1
  • Jianxin Zhang
    • 2
  • Winnie W. S. Mak
    • 3
  • Kai Chow Choi
    • 1
  • Wacy W. S. Lui
    • 4
  • Jianxin Zhang
    • 5
  • Emily Y. Y. Chan
    • 6
  1. 1.Centre for Health Behaviours Research, School of Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of MedicineThe Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  2. 2.Hua Xi College of Public HealthSichuan UniversityChengduChina
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  4. 4.Oasis-Center for Personal Growth and Crisis InterventionHospital AuthorityHong KongChina
  5. 5.Institute of PsychologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  6. 6.Department of Community and Family Medicine, School of Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of MedicineThe Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina

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