The authors describe their experience working and living in L'Aquila, where at 3.32 a.m., early in the morning of 6 April 2009, a 6.3 Richter magnitude earthquake caused serious damages to this 13th century town (with a population of 72 000 and a health district of 103 788), in the mountainous Abruzzo region and to several medieval hill villages in the surrounding areas: 309 residents were killed, over 1600 were injured, 66 000 residents were displaced, and, the centre of L'Aquila, the main historical and artistic centre of Abruzzo, was totally destroyed.
Here is described the work done at the Psychiatric Unit of the General Hospital of L'Aquila and in the University. The Authors report the incidence rate of Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) in help-seekers (full ASD 4.9%, and partial ASD 39.3%), and of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found in different samples of population (range 12–37.5). The authors express their consideration about which real-world variables can reflect the population distress and the naturalistic process of recovery in such natural disasters. After the earthquake they hypothesize that a lot of residents had found their way to recover through ‘writing, telling the story’, by analogy with what narrative medicine asserts, thus estimating the positive effect of ‘emotional disclosure’ on health. A large number of materials (books, web-blogs, videos) were produced by residents and a database of memories was implemented. The suffering and struggle to recover in the aftermaths of a traumatic experience often yields remarkable transformations and positive growth. From this point of view, the authors underline the increased virtual relationships of residents through Facebook, to cope with the loss of previous social relationships, to get information about recreational opportunities, or to get organized for public events, despite their displacement. Many collective demonstrations were organized and showed the will to actively participate to the processes of reconstruction of the civil and scientific life of the town. The authors stress the need to prevent natural disasters, instead of preventing mental disorders following natural disasters, reporting that seven Italian seismologists and scientists are on trial for manslaughter, accused to have failed to evaluate the true risks of L'Aquila earthquake.