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40% of minors in Lorca suffer post-traumatic stress a year after earthquake

Spanish researchers have analysed the impact of the Lorca catastrophe by the percentage of minors suffering post-traumatic stress. Results reveal that 55% of young people displayed this disorder a month on from the earthquake and 40% were still suffering a year later.

On 11 May 2011, Lorca suffered an earthquake measuring 5.1, preceded by another of 4.5, which killed nine people and caused significant material damage.

Two experts from the University of Murcia compared the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the population of minors in the region in its acute phase (one month after the quake) and as a chronic condition (one year later).

“The analysis indicates that 55% of the minors suffered from post-traumatic stress one month after the earthquake, while after one year this had decreased to 40%”, as Concepción López Soler, researcher from the University of Murcia and co-author of the study with Juan José López García, explained to SINC.

The results, published in the journal Gaceta Sanitaria, reveal that 75% of the minors presented re-experiencing symptoms (recurrent thoughts, nightmares and physiological manifestations) after one month and 60% after one year.

In addition, a month later, 42% suffered from avoidance of anything related to the tragedy (memory disturbances, emotional blockage) and 24% after one year. 51% also displayed hyperarousal (sleeping difficulties, irritability and concentration problems) after a month and 38% a year later.

The authors argue that post-traumatic reactions generally tend to disappear over time. “After the earthquake new mental health resources were implemented to assist people with severe post-traumatic stress”, stresses López Soler.

Primary school pupils in their 3rd and 6th year in educational centres from the municipal area were asked for their voluntary participation in this study. One month after the earthquake the level of PTSD was assessed in 495 minors and in 374 after one year.

“It is important to highlight that the younger age groups and girls are more sensitive to developing these symptoms, which coincides with the results of other studies”, the Murcian researcher points out. “Young girls in particular are a special risk group.”

Among the younger students, 54% of girls showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress compared to 39% of boys.

The evaluation was carried out using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria (DSM-IV-TR), using the Child PTSD Symptom Scale (CPSS) questionnaire which was developed to evaluate the post-traumatic stress in minors after an earthquake in Northridge (Los Angeles, USA) in 1994.

Stress after trauma

“Natural disasters create a sense of loss of personal safety and endangered survival among the population”, adds López Soler. Earthquakes are one of the disasters which cause the greatest psychological disturbances in the population and PTSD is the reaction most associated with adverse conditions.

“With previous earthquakes, the affected population has been quite variable”, she states. Three years after the Turkey earthquake in 1999, the prevalence of PTSD was 59%; 18 months after the earthquake in Kashmir (between India and Pakistan), it was 64.8% and ten months after the disaster in L’Aquila (Italy) in 2009, it was greater than 60%.

In comparison with other studies, the prevalence of PTSD is somewhat lower, which according to the authors can be understood to be due both to the lesser intensity of the earthquake and its consequences, and swift normalisation of the environment.


Post-traumatic stress disorder in schoolchildren after the 2011 earthquake in Lorca (Spain), Juan José López-García, Concepción López-Soler, Gaceta Sanitaria (2013) doi.org/10.1016/j.gaceta.2013.10.009

Plataforma SINC