Mental disorders, psychological symptoms and quality of life 8 years after an earthquake: findings from a community sample in Italy

Stefan Priebe, Fabio Marchi, Lucia Bini, Martina Flego, Ana Costa, Gian Galeazzi
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2011, 46 (7): 615-21

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Various studies assessed mental disorders and psychological symptoms following natural disasters, including earthquakes. Yet, samples were often non-representative, and the periods of time between earthquake and assessments were usually short. This study aims to assess the prevalence of mental disorders, level of psychological symptoms and subjective quality of life in a random sample in a rural region in Italy 8 years after an earthquake.

METHODS: Using a random sampling method, a pool of potential participants of working age who had experienced the earthquake were identified 8 years after the earthquake. They were sequentially approached until the target sample of 200 was reached. Mental disorders were assessed on the MINI, psychological symptoms on the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) and the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), and subjective quality of life on the Manchester Short Assessment of Quality of Life (MANSA).

RESULTS: 200 people were interviewed, and the response rate of contacted people was 43%. In the MINI, 15 participants (7.5%) had any type of mental disorder; 5 participants had PTSD at any time since the earthquake, and 1 participant at the time of the interview. Symptom levels were low (Global Severity Index of BSI mean = 0.29, SD = 0.30; IES total mean = 0.40, SD = 3.33) and subjective quality of life (MANSA mean = 5.26, SD = 0.59) was in a positive range. The distribution of mental health outcomes made it difficult to explore factors associated with them.

CONCLUSION: There is no evidence that the earthquake had a negative impact on the mental health of the affected population years later. Possible reasons include the relatively weak nature of the earthquake, strong community support that helped overcome mental distress, the long period of time (8 years) between the occurrence of the earthquake and the study, and a capacity of people to maintain or restore mental health after a natural disaster in the long term.

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