Background: When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami suddenly hit unsuspecting coastal populations in Sri Lanka, it inflicted unprecedented devastation including 35,000 deaths and 500,000 people displaced. Evaluating the psychological impact of this natural disaster provides valuable insights into planning interventions and disaster preparedness.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted among 264 adult males and females ≥16 years old living in temporary shelters housing tsunami survivors at 6 months. Interviewer-administered structured interviews were conducted to measure posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its risk factors.
Results: The participation rate was 97%. Of the subjects, 56% met criteria for symptoms of PTSD, with females at 64% and males at 42%. Females had at least twice the risk of experiencing PTSD (odds ratio [OR] 2.27, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.37–3.76). This sex difference persisted after adjusting for age, marital status, being a parent, loss of family members, amount of social support, education level, and level of depression (OR 2.14, 95% CI 1.21–3.80). Depression was significantly associated with PTSD (OR 7.19, 95% CI 3.83–13.52).
Conclusions: In this directly affected population, a majority met criteria for PTSD, indicating a significant long-term public health burden. The findings also confirm that females are at much higher risk for PTSD than males, suggesting that special mental health efforts should be targeted at women exposed to trauma. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2007;1:34–43)