• exposure factors;
  • Newcastle earthquake;
  • psychological morbidity;
  • recovery;
  • sociodemographic characteristics;
  • vulnerability factors

Objective: We sought to identify the psychosocial characteristics of high earthquake exposure subjects that were associated with the development of post-disaster morbidity and with recovery.

Method: Data reported are from 515 participants in a longitudinal study of the psychosocial effects of the 1989 Newcastle (Australia) earthquake. Subjects were allocated to three subgroups (low morbidity; recovered; and persistent morbidity) on the basis of their Impact of Event Scale scores across the four phases of the study. Differences between these subgroups were examined on a broad range of variables.

Results: Several background, dispositional, coping style and exposure-related factors characterised those who developed psychological morbidity, only a small subset of which differentiated between those who recovered and those with persistent morbidity.

Conclusions: Post-earthquake morbidity persists longer in those who are older, have a history of emotional problems, have higher neuroticism, use more neurotic defenses, and report higher levels of post-disaster life events.