Immediate effects of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster on depressive symptoms among mothers with infants: a prefectural-wide cross-sectional study from the Fukushima Health Management Survey

BMC Psychiatry. 2015 Mar 26;15:59. doi: 10.1186/s12888-015-0443-8.


Background: Mothers of young children are at high-risk for developing adverse mental health effects following a nuclear accident. Using the Japanese pregnancy registration system, the prefecture of Fukushima launched a population-based survey of women who were pregnant at the time of the Fukushima nuclear accident in order to assess their and their newborns' health. In this paper, we focus on the results of a screen for depressive symptoms among new mothers and its association with geographical region and interruption of obstetrical care after the Fukushima nuclear accident, which occurred after the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.

Methods: The survey targeted women who lived in Fukushima prefecture and who had registered their pregnancies between August 1, 2010 and July 31, 2011. Among the 16,001 women targeted, 9,321 returned the questionnaires (response proportion = 58.3%) and data from 8,196 women with singleton live births were analyzed. The main outcome measure was a standard two-item depression screen. Regional radiation levels were determined from the prefecture's periodical reports, and interruption in obstetrical care after the Fukushima nuclear accident was determined from mothers' individual responses to the questionnaire.

Results: Among the 8,196 women, 2,262 (28%) screened positive for depressive symptoms. After adjusting for maternal and infant characteristics, both mothers in Soso, the region in which the nuclear power plant is located, and mothers that had changed obstetrical care facilities were significantly more likely to screen positive for depression. In contrast, mothers in Iwaki and Aizu, regions with relatively low radiation levels, were significantly less likely to screen positive for depression.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that improving mental health support for mothers with infants should be a high priority in the acute phase of nuclear disaster response. We further recommend that in the strategic provisioning of parental support, close attention should be paid to regional variations in negative mental health consequences, particularly to those who experienced an interruption in their obstetrical care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Disasters
  • Earthquakes
  • Female
  • Fukushima Nuclear Accident*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Mental Health
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Nuclear Power Plants
  • Pregnancy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult