The Chernobyl Forum Report from the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster concluded that mental health effects were the most significant public health consequence of the accident. This paper provides an updated review of research on the psychological impact of the accident during the 25 year period since the catastrophe began. First responders and clean-up workers had the greatest exposure to radiation. Recent studies show that their rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder remain elevated two decades later. Very young children and those in utero who lived near the plant when it exploded or in severely contaminated areas have been the subject of considerable research, but the findings are inconsistent. Recent studies of prenatally exposed children conducted in Kiev, Norway and Finland point to specific neuropsychological and psychological impairments associated with radiation exposure, whereas other studies found no significant cognitive or mental health effects in exposed children grown up. General population studies report increased rates of poor self-rated health as well as clinical and subclinical depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mothers of young children exposed to the disaster remain a high-risk group for these conditions, primarily due to lingering worries about the adverse health effects on their families. Thus, long-term mental health consequences continue to be a concern. The unmet need for mental health care in affected regions remains an important public health challenge 25 years later. Future research is needed that combines physical and mental health outcome measures to complete the clinical picture.
Copyright © 2011 The Royal College of Radiologists. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.