Responses Overtime of Child and Adolescent Survivors to the 2008 Wenchuan, China Earthquake

Article excerpt

The posttraumatic psychological symptoms of 188 child and adolescent survivors were investigated at 2 stages after the 2008 earthquake in Wenchuan, China, using the Mental Health Scale (Wo & Liu, 2003) and the Coping Scale (Xiao & Xu, 1996). Results showed that the survivors' mental health and coping styles were significantly different at each stage. Compared to 1 year after, 2 weeks after the earthquake, participants had more severe psychosomatic symptoms in the following items: compulsive reexperiencing, escaping, sensitive, indifferent, easily angry, suicidal, felt guilty, easily fearful, lack of interest, inefficacy, insomnia, decreased appetite, avoiding problems, fantasy, self-blaming, and rationalization. Boys scored higher than girls in the felt lonely and asking for help items in the second week, while girls scored higher than boys in the sensitive, depressed, self-blaming, and rationalization items 1 year after the earthquake. Results suggest that psychologists and social workers should focus on children and adolescents who have experienced traumatic stress and provide them with appropriate mental health interventions.

Keywords: earthquake survivors, children, adolescents, mental health, coping styles.

At 2:28 p.m. on May 12th, 2008, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Wenchuan, China. There have been a number of studies on the mental health and posttraumatic psychological symptoms of survivors of natural disasters over the past 20 years (Frankenberg et al., 2008; van Griensven et al., 2006), however, the focus in recent studies on earthquakes has been adult trauma survivors (Armenian et al., 2000; Bland et al., 2005; Bodvarsdottir & Elklit, 2004; Priebe et al., 2011). Younger trauma survivors tend to be more vulnerable because they are at an earlier stage of human development and so psychological reactions may have lifelong consequences (Catapano et al., 2001; Thienkrua et al., 2006). Specifically, Jia et al. (2010) found that more than one of every five child survivors were identified as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression 15 months after the Wenchuan earthquake. Therefore, particular care should be given to children and young people of school age. In most previous studies, mental health disorders were assessed only once: several months or within one to two years after the earthquake (Armenian et al., 2000; Bodvarsdottir & Elklit, 2004; Catapano et al., 2001; Qu et al., 2012). Longitudinal studies of the effect of experiencing an earthquake on the mental health of survivors are rare. However, longitudinal consequences should be studied to establish the need for and evaluation of interventions for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders in the aftermath of an earthquake. Thus, in this study, our aim was to assess over time the factors that psychologically affected child and adolescent survivors after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.

Method

Participants

We surveyed a sample of 240 children and adolescents (118 girls and 122 boys, aged between 11 and 15, M = 13.57, SD = 0.77) in the second week after the earthquake. Of these, 188 (103 girls and 85 boys, aged between 11 and 15, M = 13.76, SD = 0.80) were traced one year after the earthquake. The girls and boys were from Beichuan County, one of the most affected areas located 35 km from the epicenter. Over 80% of the participants reported that their houses had been seriously damaged, and 67% of the participants lost family members, or had significant others who had either died or were seriously injured.

Measures

Modified versions of the Mental Health Scale (MHS; Wo & Liu, 2003) and the Coping Scale (CS; Xiao & Xu, 1996) were used. These scales have been found to have good validity and reliability (Zhang et al., 2010).

The MHS was developed and validated for assessing Chinese children's mental health. The modified version contains 53 questions and consists of three subscales: emotion, cognition, and physical adaptation. …