Background: A sample of 1089 Australian adults was selected for the longitudinal component of the Quake Impact Study, a 2-year, four-phase investigation of the psychosocial effects of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. Of these, 845 (78%) completed a survey 6 months post-disaster as well as one or more of the three follow-up surveys.
Methods: The phase 1 survey was used to construct dimensional indices of self-reported exposure to threat the disruption and also to classify subjects by their membership of five 'at risk' groups (the injured; the displaced; owners of damaged small businesses; helpers in threat and non-threat situations). Psychological morbidity was assessed at each phase using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) and the Impact of Event Scale (IES).
Results: Psychological morbidity declined over time but tended to stabilize at about 12 months post-disaster for general morbidity (GHQ-12) and at about 18 months for trauma-related (IES) morbidity. Initial exposure to threat and/or disruption were significant predictors of psychological morbidity throughout the study and had superior predictive power to membership of the targeted 'at risk' groups. The degree of ongoing disruption and other life events since the earthquake were also significant predictors of morbidity. The injured reported the highest levels of distress, but there was a relative absence of morbidity among the helpers.
Conclusions: Future disaster research should carefully assess the threat and disruption experiences of the survivors at the time of the event and monitor ongoing disruptions in the aftermath in order to target interventions more effectively.