Skip to main content Accessibility help

Psychological Distress Following Urban Earthquakes in California

  • Linda B. Bourque (a1), Judith M. Siegel (a2) and Kimberley I. Shoaf (a3)


During and following a disaster caused by a natural event, human populations are thought to be at greater risk of psychological morbidity and mortality directly attributable to increased, disaster-induced stress. Drawing both on the research of others and that conducted at the Center for Public Health and Disaster Relief of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) following California earthquakes, this paper examines the extent to which research evidence supports these assumptions. Following a brief history of disaster research in the United States, the response of persons at the time of an earthquake was examined with particular attention to psychological morbidity; the number of deaths that can be attributed to cardiovascular events and suicides; and the extent to which and by whom, health services are used following an earthquake. The implications of research findings for practitioners in the field are discussed.


Corresponding author

PhD Box 951772, School of Public Health, Center for the Health Sciences, Los Angeles, California 90095–1772 USA E-mail:


Hide All
1. U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. 19451947 Reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
2. Quarantelli, EL, Dynes, RR: Response to social crisis and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology 1977; 3: 2349.
3. Quarantelli, EL: An Assessment of Conflicting Views on Mental Health: The Consequences of Traumatic Events. In: Figley, F (ed), Trauma and Its Wake, New York: Brunner-Mazel, 1985, pp 173215.
4. Janis, I: Air War and Emotional Stress. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.
5. Kreps, GA: The worth of the NAS-NRC (1952–63) and DRC (1963–pre-sent) studies of individual and social response to disasters. In: Wright, JD, Rossi, PH (eds) Social Science and Natural Hazards. Cambridge, MA: Abt Books, 1981.
6. Leor, J, Poole, WK, Kloner, RA: Sudden cardiac death triggered by an earthquake. N Engl J Med 1996; 334: 413419.
7. Kloner, RA, Leor, J, Poole, WK, Perritt, R: Population-based analysis of the effect of the Northridge Earthquake on cardiac death in Los Angeles County, California. J Amer Coll. Card 1997; 30: 1174–80.
8. Bourque, LB, Russell, LA with the assistance of Krauss, GL, Riopelle, D, Goltz, JD, Greene, M, McAfee, S, Nathe, S: Experiences During and Responses to the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Oakland, CA: Governor's Office of Emergency Services, July 1994.
9. Bourque, LB, Shoaf, KI, Nguyen, LH: Survey research. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 1997; 15: 71101.
10. Shoaf, KI, Bourque, LB, Smith, LV, with the assistance of Giangreco, C, Nguyen, LH, Sareen, H, Siegel, JM, Weiss, B: The Impact of the Northridge Earthquake on Los Angeles County: Health Effects and Responses. Report to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, 1998.
11. Keane, TM, Caddell, JM, Taylor, KL: Mississippi scale for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder: Three studies in reliability and validity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1988; 56: 8590.
12. Inkelas, M, Loux, LA, Bourque, LB, Widawski, M, Nguyen, LH.: Dimensionality and reliability of the civilian Mississippi scale for PTSD in a postearthquake community. Journal of Traumatic Stress 2000: 13: 149– 167.
13. Applied Technology Council: ATC-13 Earthquake Damage Evaluation Data for California (Technical Report). Redwood, CA: Author, 1985.
14. Comerio, M: Northridge Housing Losses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.
15. Shoaf, KI, Sareen, HR, Nguyen, LH, Bourque, LB: Injuries as a result of California earthquakes in the past decade. Disasters 1998; 22: 218235.
16. Trichopoulos, D, Katsouyanni, K, Zavilsanos, X, Tzonou, A, Dalla-Vorgia, P. Psychological stress and fatal heart attack: The Athens (1981) natural experiment. Lancet 1983; 1: 441444.
17. Suzuki, S, Sakamoto, S, Miki, T, Matsuo, T: Hanshin-Awaji earthquake and acute myocardial infarction. Lancet 1995; 345: 981.
18. Kario, K, Ohashi, T: Increased Coronary heath disease mortality after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake among the older community on Awaji island. Journal of the American Geriatric Society 1997; 45: 610613.
19. Logue, JN, Melick, ME, Struening, EL: A study of health and mental health status following a major natural disaster. Research in Community and Mental Health 1981; 2: 217274.
20. Robins, LN, Fischback, RL, Smith, EM, Cottler, LB, Solomon, SD, Goldring, E: Impact of disaster on previously assessed mental health. In: Shore, J, (ed): Disaster Stress Studies: New Methods and Findings. Washington, D.C., American Psychiatric Press, 1986.
21. Shore, James (ed): Disaster Stress Studies: New Methods and Findings. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Press, 1986.
22. Tierney, KJ: Disasters and Mental Health: A Critical Look at Knowledge and Practice. Prepared for the Italy-United States Conference on Disasters, 5–10 October, 1986.
23. Tierney KEmergency, J. Preparedness and Response. Practical Lessons From the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1994, pp 105128.
24. Krug, EG, Kresnow, MJ, Peddicord, JP, Dahlberg, LL, Powell, KE, Crosby, AE, Annest, JL: Suicide after natural disasters. N Engl J Med 1998; 338: 373378.
25. Krug, EG, Kresnow, MJ, Peddicord, JP, Dahlberg, LL, Powell, KE, Crosby, AE, Annest, JL: Retraction: suicide after natural disasters. N Engl J Med 1999; 340: 148149.
26. Norris, FH, Perilla, JL: The revised civilian Mississippi scale for PTSD: Reliability, validity, and cross-language stability. Journal of Traumatic Stress 1996; 9: 285298.
27. Siegel, JM: Emotional Injury and the Northridge, California Earthquake. Natural Hazards Review 2000; 204211.
28. Siegel, JM., Shoaf, KI, Bourque, LB: The C-Mississippi Scale for PTSD in post-earthquake communities. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 2000; 18: 339346.
29. McFall, ME, Smith, DS, Mackay, PW, Tarver, DJ: Reliability and validity of the Mississippi scale for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychological Assessment: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1990; 2: 114121.
30. Vreven, DL, Gudanowski, DM, King, LA, King, DW: The civilian version of the Mississippi PTSD scale: A psychometric evaluation. Journal of Traumatic Stress 1995; 8: 91109.
31. Shoaf, KI, Bourque, LB, Giangreco, C, Weiss, B: Suicides in Los Angeles County in Relation to the Northridge Earthquake. Submitted to Prehosp Disast Med 2002 for publication.
32. Shoaf, KI: Predictors of Disaster Service Utilization Following the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake. University of California, Los Angeles. Dissertation submitted for the Doctor of Public Health (Dr.PH), 1997.
33. Shoaf, KI, Bourque, LB: Correlates of damage to residences following the Northridge earthquake, as reported in a population-based survey of Los Angeles County residents. Earthquake Spectra 1999; 15: 145172.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Psychological Distress Following Urban Earthquakes in California

  • Linda B. Bourque (a1), Judith M. Siegel (a2) and Kimberley I. Shoaf (a3)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.