DOI: 10.3390/children10091485 ISSN:

Surviving the Immediate Aftermath of a Disaster: A Preliminary Investigation of Adolescents’ Acute Stress Reactions and Mental Health Needs after the 2023 Turkey Earthquakes

Gökçe Yağmur Efendi, Rahime Duygu Temeltürk, Işık Batuhan Çakmak, Mustafa Dinçer
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health

On 6 February, southeastern Turkey and parts of Syria were struck by two powerful earthquakes, one measuring a magnitude of 7.8 and the other, nine hours later, at a magnitude of 7.5. These earthquakes have been recorded as some of the deadliest natural disasters worldwide since the 2010 Haiti earthquake, impacting around 14 million people in Turkey. For trauma survivors, the stressors associated with an event can lead to the development of acute stress disorder (ASD) or other psychiatric disorders. Trauma experiences during adolescence can impact development and affect adolescents differently than adults. Although ASD in adults has been addressed in several studies, there is much less information available about how younger populations respond to acute stress. The aim of our study was to assess the occurrence of ASD among individuals seeking help at the Şanlıurfa Mehmet Akif İnan Research and Training Hospital Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic following the 2023 Turkey Earthquakes and the factors associated with acute stress reactions. A child and adolescent psychiatry specialist conducted psychiatric interviews with the adolescents, and the individuals were also asked to complete ‘The National Stressful Events Survey Acute Stress Disorder Short Scale’ (NSESSS) to evaluate acute stress symptoms. ASD diagnoses were established according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) criteria. Results showed that 81.6% of the participants (n = 49) were diagnosed with ASD, and drug treatment was initiated in 61.7% of the cases (n = 37). It was determined that ASD rates did not differ according to gender, and patients without physical injury had higher acute stress symptom scores (p > 0.05). According to the logistic regression models, paternal educational levels and adolescents’ own requests for psychiatric assistance were predictors of acute stress disorder (OR 10.1, β = 2.31, p = 0.006 and OR 16.9, 95 β = 2.83, p = 0.001, respectively). Our findings revealed striking results in demonstrating the need for careful evaluation of adolescents without physical injury in terms of acute stress disorder and the need to pay close attention to the psychiatric complaints of adolescents willing to seek mental health assistance. Moreover, our study suggests that the proportion of adolescents experiencing acute stress symptoms after earthquakes might be higher than previously reported. Estimation of the incidence rate and symptoms of psychiatric distress in the short-term period following a disaster is important for establishing disaster epidemiology and implementing efficient relief efforts in the early stages. The outcomes of this study have the potential to yield novel insights into the realms of disaster mental health and emergency response policies, as well as their pragmatic implementations.

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