Researchers who spoke to nearly 2,000 teenagers three months after an 8.0 earthquake found high level of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially among girls and senior students. The findings underline the need for young people to receive prompt psychological support after major disasters to avoid them developing long-term mental health problems. The study may be of particular interest to journalists doing follow-up pieces on the aftermath of the Turkish earthquake.
Teenage survivors of a major earthquake experienced high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with girls and older students being the most severely affected, according to a study published in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.
Researchers led by the West China School of Nursing and West China Hospital, Sichuan University, surveyed 1,976 young people aged from 12 to 20 years of age three months after the Wenchuan earthquake, focusing on the five most severely damaged secondary schools.
They found that the biggest difference between the genders and age groups was due to increased emotional arousal, where people feel constantly on guard, have problems sleeping, are subject to outbursts of anger or irritability and find it hard to concentrate.
The findings underline the need for young people to receive prompt psychological support after major disasters to avoid them developing long-term mental health problems.
Nearly 70,000 people died in the 2008 earthquake, which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale, 375,000 were injured and 18,000 are still missing. More than 5,000 children and teenagers died.
"Earthquakes usually strike suddenly, without warning, affecting large populations and leaving injury, death and destruction in their wake" says lead author Dr Weiqing Zhang. "Some survivors develop PTSD, a severe and complex disorder characterised by persistent problems, including intrusive memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and a heightened emotional state."
The students who took part in the study had an average age of 15 years and four months, 54% were female and two-thirds were older students, aged 16 plus.
"We believe that the findings of our study provide important information for mental health interventions after large-scale natural disasters" says Dr Zhang. "Previous research has indicated that symptoms in adolescents persist long after traumatic events and are likely to become chronic, which is why prompt action and support is so necessary."
The authors have three key recommendations for clinical practice as a result of their study:
"Sadly, the world has been affected by a number of large-scale natural disasters in the last few years, including large earthquakes and tsunamis" says Dr Zhang. "Our research underlines the importance of making sure that adolescents receive the psychological support they need to rebuild their lives, as well as the practical resources they and their families need to rebuild their homes and communities."
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