Volume 24 (2014) Issue 2 Pages 125-131
Background: The 2004 Niigata-Chuetsu earthquake of Japan caused considerable damage. We assessed long-term changes in psychological distress among earthquake victims during the period 5 years after the earthquake.
Methods: The participants were people aged 18 years or older living in Yamakoshi, a community in Niigata Prefecture near the epicenter. A self-administered questionnaire survey was conducted annually for 5 consecutive years after the earthquake. Response rates were 1316/1841 (71.5%) in 2005, 667/1381 (48.3%) in 2006, 753/1451 (51.9%) in 2007, 541/1243 (43.5%) in 2008, and 814/1158 (70.3%) in 2009. The questionnaire asked about demographic characteristics, including sex, age, employment status, social network, and psychological status. Psychological distress was assessed using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire and was defined as a total score of 4 or higher.
Results: The overall prevalence of psychological distress decreased (P < 0.0001) gradually from 2005 (51.0%) to 2008 (30.1%) but tended to increase from 2008 to 2009 (P = 0.1590). Subgroup analyses showed that prevalence did not decrease over the 5-year study period among participants with poor social contact (P = 0.0659). From 2008 to 2009 prevalence increased in women (+7.5%, P = 0.0403) and participants aged 65 years or older (+7.2%, P = 0.0400).
Conclusions: The prevalence of psychological distress in Yamakoshi people decreased steadily during the 4 years immediately after the earthquake but appeared to increase thereafter. The earthquake victims are still reestablishing their lives. Thus, continued attention should be focused on maintaining and further assessing their mental health.