• depression;
  • natural disaster;
  • psychological distress;
  • psychological recovery;
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

Aim:  This study was undertaken 5 months after the 2004 Niigata–Chuetsu earthquake in Japan to assess factors that impacted on psychological distress and its recovery.

Methods:  Three thousand and twenty-six adult victims who lived in temporary shelter and in seriously damaged areas were evaluated by questionnaire. The questionnaire queried subject profile, degree of house damage, health status, and psychological distress using a 5-point scale before, immediately and 5 months after the earthquake.

Results:  Immediately after the earthquake, 59.3% of the subjects had psychological distress. At 5 months after the earthquake, however, this percentage decreased to 21.8%. The psychological distress immediately after the earthquake was significantly serious in victims who: (i) were female; (ii) felt stronger fear of the earthquake and the aftershocks; (iii) lived at home or office after the earthquake; and (iv) were injured due to the earthquake or suffered from sickness after the earthquake. In contrast, the factors impairing psychological recovery 5 months after the earthquake were as follows: (i) being with unfamiliar member(s) during the night after the earthquake; (ii) serious house damage; (iii) living in temporary shelter or at a relative's home after the earthquake; and (iv) physical illness after the earthquake.

Conclusion:  Despite differences between disasters, these results were consistent with those in some previous studies and may be useful for long-term mental care support.