Association of psychological distress with psychological factors in rescue workers within two months after a major earthquake

J Formos Med Assoc. 2002 Mar;101(3):169-76.


Background and purpose: Studies of the health of rescue workers after a major disaster have frequently focused on posttraumatic stress disorder. This study aimed to determine the characteristics of psychological distress and its psychosocial predictors in rescue workers within a 2-month period after an earthquake that struck central Taiwan on September 21, 1999.

Methods: A total of 1,104 rescue workers serving in the earthquake were enrolled in the study. Psychological distress was measured using the Brief Symptom Rating Scale (BSRS), personality traits using the Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI), and family function using APGAR (adaptability, partnership, growth, affection, and resolve) indexes. These measurements were performed within 2 months of the earthquake. Univariate and multivariate analyses were applied to examine the association between psychological distress and various psychosocial factors.

Results: BSRS assessment revealed severe psychological distress in 137 (16.4%) subjects. The most common symptom dimension was phobic-anxiety (18.7%), followed by hostility (17.6%), obsessive-compulsive symptoms (16.2%), depression (14.9%), paranoid ideation (14.2%), interpersonal sensitivity (13.3%), psychoticism (11.9%), anxiety (10.8%), additional symptoms (8.5%), and somatization (6.2%). Pre-disaster major life events (R2 = 0.03) and most of the factor scores of the MPI (including moodiness, anxiety-prone, outgoing, conscientiousness, activity, and sociability factors; R2 = 0.25) predicted the severity of psychological distress. Time of arrival at the scene, previous exposure, age, and family function had no or trivial predictive power.

Conclusion: The results of this study indicated that prevalence of general psychological distress is high among rescue workers in the first 2 months after a major earthquake. Personality traits and pre-disaster life adjustment had a dominant predictive power for psychological distress. Immediate psychosocial intervention should be considered to ameliorate the distress related to disaster rescue work.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disasters*
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • Taiwan
  • Time Factors