BACKGROUND: Few studies have explored the long-term mental health consequences of disaster losses in bereaved, either exposed to the disaster themselves or not. This study examined the prevalence and predictors of mental disorders and psychological distress in bereaved individuals either directly or not directly exposed to the 2004 tsunami disaster. METHOD: A cross-sectional study of 111 bereaved Norwegians (32 directly and 79 not directly exposed) was conducted 2 years postdisaster. We used a face-to-face structured clinical interview to diagnose current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (major depressive disorder, MDD) and a self-report scale to measure prolonged grief disorder (PGD). RESULTS: The prevalence of psychiatric disorders was twice as high among individuals directly exposed to the disaster compared to individuals who were not directly exposed (46.9 vs. 22.8 per 100). The prevalence of disorders among the directly exposed was PTSD (34.4%), MDD (25%), and PGD (23.3%), whereas the prevalence among the not directly exposed was PGD (14.3%), MDD (10.1%), and PTSD (5.2%). The co-occurrence of disorders was higher among the directly exposed (21.9 vs. 5.2%). Low education and loss of a child predicted PGD, whereas direct exposure to the disaster predicted PTSD. All three disorders were independently associated with functional impairment. CONCLUSIONS: The dual burden of direct trauma and loss can inflict a complex set of long-term reactions and mental health problems in bereaved individuals. The relationship between PGD and impaired functioning actualizes the incorporation of PGD in future diagnostic manuals of psychiatric disorders.
Bereavement following disasters is a devastating experience for family members. The aim of this study was to examine the long-term mental health effects of losing a loved one in a natural disaster.
Ninety-four Norwegians aged 18-80 years who lost close family members in the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami were evaluated 2 and 6 years after the disaster. The participants were either staying in an affected area at the time of the disaster (i.e., directly exposed) or not (i.e., not directly exposed). The prevalence of psychiatric disorders was assessed by the MINI International Neuropsychiatric Interview (M.I.N.I). Prolonged grief disorder (PGD) was self-reported using the Inventory of Complicated Grief (ICG), and functional impairment was self-reported using the Work and Social Adjustment Scale (WSAS).
We did not identify a significant decrease in the prevalence of PGD, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or major depressive disorder (MDD) from 2 to 6 years. Approximately, one-third of the bereaved (36%) had a psychiatric disorder 6 years after the tsunami. The most common disorder was PGD (12%) followed by general anxiety disorder (GAD, 11%), agoraphobia (11%), and MDD (10%). The prevalence of PTSD and MDD was higher among family members who were directly exposed to the disaster compared to those who were not (21 vs. 0%, and 25 vs. 3%). PGD was associated with functional impairment independent of other disorders.
Loss of a close family member in a natural disaster can have a substantial adverse long-term effect on mental health and everyday functioning.