All of us at Posit Science were saddened to hear about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Northern Japan today. Our hearts go out to those who are dealing with the aftermath of this tragic occurrence.
After the headlines are gone and the world moves on, most people assume that those affected by natural disasters get their lives together and move on. Unfortunately, many disaster survivors experience severe psychological distress and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder.) These illnesses can go under-reported and under-treated in the wake of a disaster, but can be just as debilitating as losing a home or possessions, and can last for many years.
I wrote previously about the mental health issues that faced the miners in the Chilean mine rescue last year. Today, in light of the recent tsunami in Japan, I wanted to take a look at recent research on earthquake and tsunami survivors from around the world. The findings are rather grim.
The first place I looked was the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004–in which 200,000 people perished and many tens of thousands were displaced. A study in thousands of people in Thailand showed that in a sample of tsunami survivors, over 33% suffered from PTSD, 14% from depression, while 11% suffered from both PTSD and depression–meaning nearly 60% of survivors were found to have serious psychological issues following the disaster. Some studies found that people who were displaced were at a higher risk for psychological problems. Considering the fact that over a million people were displaced in this disaster, it’s a sobering finding.
The research from lesser disasters continues to mount in a similar fashion. In a study on survivors of the Taiwan earthquake of 1999, researchers found that around 30% of survivors, mostly female, had some degree of post-traumatic stress. Case studies of children following the 1999 Istanbul earthquake found that while some children who initially experienced PTSD post-quake, others had PTSD and depression for up to 20 months following the disaster. And according to mental health experts working on the recent earthquake in New Zealand, they say, “The recovery process following something like Christchurch… is a long one. We’re not talking weeks or months but years for some people.”
Once the houses are back up and the towns are put back together, many people will continue to suffer the effects of these natural disasters. We must consider the mental health of disaster survivors and ensure they get the psychological help they need to truly move forward with their lives.