Longitudinal study of earthquake-related PTSD in a randomly selected community sample in north China

Am J Psychiatry. 2000 Aug;157(8):1260-6. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.157.8.1260.


Objective: This study longitudinally described rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in two groups with different levels of severity of exposure to an earthquake in North China. The effects of diagnostic criteria on the frequency of detected PTSD were also examined.

Method: Subjects were randomly sampled in two villages at different distances from the earthquake epicenter. A total of 181 and 157 subjects were assessed at 3 months and 9 months after the earthquake, respectively, for PTSD by using both DSM-IV and DSM-III-R criteria. The brief version of the World Health Organization Quality of Life Assessment and three subscales of the SCL-90-R were also administered at both assessment points.

Results: The village with a higher level of initial exposure to the earthquake and a higher level of postearthquake support had a lower frequency of PTSD than the village with a lower level of initial exposure and less postearthquake support. The rate of onset of DSM-IV PTSD within 9 months for the two villages was 19.8% and 30.3%, respectively. In both villages, the rate of onset of earthquake-related PTSD within 9 months was 24.2% by using DSM-IV criteria and 41.4% by using DSM-III-R criteria. The introduction in DSM-IV of a criterion requiring clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning for a diagnosis of PTSD was a major contributor to the lower rate of DSM-IV PTSD.

Conclusions: PTSD may be as prevalent and persistent in disaster victims in China as in those elsewhere. Prompt and effective postdisaster intervention could mitigate the impact of initial exposure and reduce the probability of PTSD occurrence. Caution should be used in comparing rates of postdisaster PTSD identified by using different diagnostic criteria.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China / epidemiology
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality of Life
  • Relief Work
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Sampling Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Terminology as Topic