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Mental disorders higher in Gujarat’s quake-hit areas where impact was less

Study finds more psychological problems in Rajkot and Ahmedabad than in epicentre Bhuj.

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A seven-year Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) study on the long-term psychological effects of the 2001 earthquake has shown that the mental health condition in the mild and moderately affected areas is worse than in those closest to the epicentre in Bhuj.

The study,carried out from 2002 to 2009 across three centres in Gujarat and expected to be published later this month,found that people affected by the disaster continue to suffer from a range of mental health problems.

Serious psychiatric illnesses in Bhuj were found to be at 48.4 per 1,000 for the urban population and 49.5 per 1,000 for the rural areas. In comparison,the figures were 65.3 and 67 per 1,000 for Ahmedabad and Rajkot respectively.

Mild psychological problems were also higher in areas away from the epicentre. The numbers are 153 per 1,000 in Ahmedabad,121 per 1000 in Rajkot and only 38 per 1,000 in Bhuj.

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“This is clearly an apparent contradiction and shows that long-term psychological rehabilitation should not remain restricted to the areas closest to the epicentre,” explained Dr. Nimesh Desai,director of the Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences(IHBAS) which carried out the study supported by ICMR in Bhuj,Rajkot and Ahmedabad. The study covered 12,771 people in Bhuj,7,876 in Rajkot and 7,673 in Ahmedabad.

The number of women affected by such serious disorders was much higher than men. In Bhuj,for instance,69.2 per 1,000 of women were affected,compared to only 26.7 per 1,000 men.

“We found this even after the tsunami in Tamil Nadu—females tend to incur far more psychological damage than males after such large-scale disasters,” said Desai.

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In terms of the nature of illnesses,severe psychotic disorders like Schizophrenia were the highest in Rajkot at 5.11 per 1,000,followed by the urban population at Bhuj at 2.5 per 1,000. Ahmedabad and rural Bhuj had much lower figures of psychotic problems. Depressive and recurrent depressive disorders were the most common problem in all three centres,though it was the highest in Bhuj at 32.62/1,000 compared to 20.98 and 29.39 in Rajkot and Ahmedabad. Anxiety disorders were much higher in Ahmedabad and Rajkot at 19.63 and 17.4 per 1,000 population,compared to 3.87 in Bhuj.

However,the study notes that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),the most common psychological disorder in the Western countries after calamities,was completely absent. Experts attribute this to the strongly community- and family-based support system in India. “This is a very positive finding since it shows that PTSD was not found at all,after five to six years of the disaster. Strong intra-family and intra-community support is the possible cause for this finding,” said Desai.

“This was the first long-term study to evaluate the psychological impact of such a large-scale disaster. We wanted to the study the mental health profile of the areas that were affected mildly,moderately and severely to establish a total picture of the mental problems in the earthquake-hit areas,” Desai said.

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The National Disaster Management Authority(NDMA) is now planning to conduct a similar assessment of the psychological impact in Sikkim and among the Delhi High Court blast victims.

First published on: 09-10-2011 at 02:30 IST
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