Media Exposure Related to the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake Predicted Probable PTSD Among Chinese Adolescents in Kunming, China: A Longitudinal Study

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Objective: This study examined the prevalence and the psychosocial predictors of probable PTSD among Chinese adolescents in Kunming (approximately 444 miles from the epicenter), China, who were indirectly exposed to the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008. Method: Using a longitudinal study design, primary and secondary school students (N = 3577) in Kunming completed questionnaires at baseline (June 2008) and 6 months afterward (December 2008) in classroom settings. Participants’ exposure to earthquake-related imagery and content, perceptions and emotional reactions related to the earthquake, and posttraumatic stress symptoms were measured. Univariate and forward stepwise multivariable logistic regression models were fit to identify significant predictors of probable PTSD at the 6-month follow-up. Results: Prevalences of probable PTSD (with a Children’s Revised Impact of Event Scale score ≥30) among the participants at baseline and 6-month follow-up were 16.9% and 11.1% respectively. In the multivariable analysis, those who were frequently exposed to distressful imagery had experienced at least two types of negative life events, perceived that teachers were distressed due to the earthquake, believed that the earthquake resulted from damages to the ecosystem, and felt apprehensive and emotionally disturbed due to the earthquake reported a higher risk of probable PTSD at 6-month follow-up (all ps < .05). Conclusion: Exposure to distressful media images, emotional responses, and disaster-related perceptions at baseline were found to be predictive of probable PTSD several months after indirect exposure to the event. Parents, teachers, and the mass media should be aware of the negative impacts of disaster-related media exposure on adolescents’ psychological health.

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