Bromet J, Havenaar JM. Psychological and perceived health effects of the Chernobyl disaster: a 20-year review. Health Phys

ArticleinHealth Physics 93(5):516-21 · December 2007with47 Reads
DOI: 10.1097/01.HP.0000279635.14108.02 · Source: PubMed
The mental health impact of Chernobyl is regarded by many experts as the largest public health problem unleashed by the accident to date. This paper reviews findings reported during the 20-y period after the accident regarding stress-related symptoms, effects on the developing brain, and cognitive and psychological impairments among highly exposed cleanup workers. With respect to stress-related symptoms, the rates of depressive, anxiety (especially post-traumatic stress symptoms), and medically unexplained physical symptoms are two to four times higher in Chernobyl-exposed populations compared to controls, although rates of diagnosable psychiatric disorders do not appear to be elevated. The symptom elevations were found as late as 11 y after the accident. Severity of symptomatology is significantly related to risk perceptions and being diagnosed with a Chernobyl-related health problem. In general, the morbidity patterns are consistent with the psychological impairments documented after other toxic events, such as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Three Mile Island accident, and Bhopal. With respect to the developing brain of exposed children who were in utero or very young when the accident occurred, the World Health Organization as well as American and Israeli researchers have found no significant associations of radiation exposure with cognitive impairments. Cognitive impairments in highly exposed cleanup workers have been reported by Ukrainian researchers, but these findings have not been independently confirmed. A seminal study found a significant excess death rate from suicide in cleanup workers, suggesting a sizable emotional toll. Given the magnitude and persistence of the adverse mental health effects on the general population, long-term educational and psychosocial interventions should be initiated that target primary care physicians, local researchers, and high risk populations, including participants in ongoing cohort studies.
    • "Many experts have recognized that the effect of the Chernobyl accident on mental health was one of the largest public health issues at the time. Stress-related symptoms including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and medically unexplained somatic symptoms were elevated in the cohort of the Chernobyl disaster compared to controls[8] [31]. These consequences are often related to fears about developing malignant neoplasm caused by exposure to excess radiation, and evidence from the Chernobyl or TMI accidents suggests that females with young children and cleanup workers at nuclear power plants have the highest risk of suffering from psychological distress, even if not directly exposed to radioactive contamination[32]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Background: Following the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has continued to affect the mental health status of residents in the evacuation zone. To examine the mental health status of evacuee after the nuclear accident, we conducted the Mental Health and Lifestyle Survey as part of the ongoing Fukushima Health Management Survey. Methods: We measured mental health status using the Kessler 6-item psychological distress scale (K6) in a total of 73,569 (response rate: 40.7%) evacuees aged 15 and over who lived in the evacuation zone in Fukushima Prefecture. We then dichotomized responders using a 12/13 cutoff on the K6, and compared the proportion of K6 scores ≥13 and ≤12 in each risk factor including demographic information, socioeconomic variables, and disaster-related variables. We also performed bivariate analyses between mental health status and possible risk factors using the chi-square test. Furthermore, we performed multivariate regression analysis using modified Poisson regression models. Results: The median K6 score was 5 (interquartile range: 1-10). The number of psychological distress was 8,717 (14.6%). We found that significant differences in the prevalence of psychological distress by almost all survey items, including disaster-related risk factors, most of which were also associated with increased Prevalence ratios (PRs). Additionally, we found that psychological distress in each evacuation zone was significantly positively associated with the radiation levels in their environment (r = 0.768, p = 0.002). Conclusion: The earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear accident likely caused severe psychological distress among residents in the evacuation zone in Fukushima Prefecture. The close association between psychological distress and the radiation levels shows that the nuclear accident seriously influenced the mental health of the residents, which might be exacerbated by increased risk perception. To provide prompt and appropriate support, continued psychosocial intervention for evacuees is strongly recommended.
    Article · Jul 2016
    • "Self-abandonment, feelings of helplessness and lethargy have been described as mental reactions to the uncertainty about one's own health status and the worries about suffering from cancer in the future (United Nations 2002). Suicide rates are significantly higher in the seriously contaminated population (Bromet and Havenaar 2007). 11 In a nationally representative study for Ukraine, economists Lehmann and Wadsworth (2011) find negative long-term effects of radiation exposure on subjective health but not on objective physical health. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: This paper assesses the long-run toll taken by a large-scale technological disaster on welfare, well-being and mental health. We estimate the causal effect of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe after 20 years by linking geographic variation in radioactive fallout to respondents of a nationally representative survey in Ukraine according to their place of residence in 1986. We exclude individuals who were exposed to high levels of radiation—about 4% of the population. Instead, we focus on the remaining majority of Ukrainians who received subclinical radiation doses; we find large and persistent psychological effects of this nuclear disaster. Affected individuals exhibit poorer subjective well-being, higher depression rates and lower subjective survival probabilities; they rely more on governmental transfers as source of subsistence. We estimate the aggregate annual welfare loss at 2–6% of Ukraine’s GDP highlighting previously ignored externalities of large-scale catastrophes.
    Article · Jan 2016 · Journal of Radiation Research
    • "Psychosocial consequences of disasters have been studied for more than 100 years; however, investigations after NPPAs are neither complete nor comprehensive [38] , and the importance of the psychological impact is underscored [39, 40]. In fact, following large-scale disasters (i.e. the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents), psychosocial sequelae were intense and long lasting, and occurred independently of the actual exposure received, and mental health effects were the most significant health consequence123456. It is noted that the evacuee mothers rated their evacuated children's wellbeing as significantly worse, and the most important risk factors of this health consequence were maternal somatization and Chernobyl-related stress [41]. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Both radiation and stresses cause detrimental effects on humans. Besides possible health effects resulting directly from radiation exposure, the nuclear plant accident is a cause of social psychological stresses. A recent study showed that chronic restraint-induced stresses (CRIS) attenuated Trp53 functions and increased carcinogenesis susceptibility of Trp53-heterozygous mice to total-body X-irradiation (TBXI), having a big impact on the academic world and a sensational effect on the public, especially the residents living in radioactively contaminated areas. It is important to investigate the possible modification effects from CRIS on radiation-induced health consequences in Trp53 wild-type (Trp53wt) animals. Prior to a carcinogenesis study, effects of TBXI on the hematopoietic system under CRIS were investigated in terms of hematological abnormality in the peripheral blood and residual damage in the bone marrow erythrocytes using a mouse restraint model. Five-week-old male Trp53wt C57BL/6J mice were restrained 6 h per day for 28 consecutive days, and TBXI (4 Gy) was given on the 8th day. Results showed that CRIS alone induced a marked decrease in the red blood cell (RBC) and the white blood cell (WBC) count, while TBXI caused significantly lower counts of RBCs, WBCs and blood platelets, and a lower concentration of hemoglobin regardless of CRIS. CRIS alone did not show any significant effect on erythrocyte proliferation and on induction of micronucleated erythrocytes, whereas TBXI markedly inhibited erythrocyte proliferation and induced a significant increase in the incidences of micronucleated erythrocytes, regardless of CRIS. These findings suggest that CRIS does not have a significant impact on radiation-induced detrimental effects on the hematopoietic system in Trp53wt mice.
    Full-text · Article · Jun 2015
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