Prevalence of mental disorders and suicidal thoughts among community-dwelling elderly adults 3 years after the niigata-chuetsu earthquake

J Epidemiol. 2011;21(2):144-50. doi: 10.2188/jea.je20100093. Epub 2011 Feb 12.


Background: Japan is located in an area prone to natural disasters, and major earthquakes have occurred recently in rural areas where the proportion of elderly adults is high. Although elderly persons are vulnerable members of communities at a time of disaster, the prevalence of mental disorders among this population has yet to be reported in Japan. This study aimed to determine the prevalence of mental disorders and suicidal thoughts among community-dwelling elderly persons 3 years after an earthquake and to identify risk factors associated with their quality of life (QOL).

Methods: Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 496 community-dwelling persons aged 65 years or older in areas of Japan where 2 major earthquakes had occurred during a 3-year period. The main outcome was diagnosis of a mental disorder or suicidality.

Results: During the 3-year period after the earthquake, 1.6% of men and 5.5% of women had received a diagnosis of major depression. There were no cases of posttraumatic stress disorder. Women were more likely than men to report suicidality (7.8% vs 3.8%, P = 0.075).

Conclusions: The prevalence of mental disorders was lower than that reported in previous studies. Despite the low prevalence of mental disorders, the percentage of community-dwelling elderly persons with subclinical mental health symptoms was high. The results indicate that appropriate public health and medical interventions are warranted after a natural disaster.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Disasters*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Time Factors