Post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents 2 years after the 2012 earthquake in Italy

Post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional and behavioral difficulties in children and adolescents 2 years after the 2012 earthquake in Italy: an epidemiological cross-sectional study

Forresi, B; Soncini, F; Bottosso, E; Di Pietro E; Scarpini, G; Scaini, S; Aggazzotti, G; Caffo, E; Righi, E
Sigmund Freud University, Milan, Italy
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia,
Department of Biomedical, Metabolic and Neural Sciences, Modena, Italy
Sigmund Freud University, Milan, Italy

European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry ; New York Vol. 29, Iss. 2, (Feb 2020): 227-238.


Despite the occurrence of several earthquakes, only a few studies were conducted in Italy on the psychological impact in children and adolescents, with data mostly collected within one year after the disaster. This crosssectional study aimed at exploring the prevalence of both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and emotional/behavioral difficulties, as well as at identifying their main predictors, among youths 2 years after the earthquake that hit Northern Italy in 2012. 682 children and adolescents (9–14 years) living in two districts (earthquake zone vs control zone) were administered an exposure questionnaire, the UCLA PTSD-Index for DSM-IV, and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and 1162 parents were assessed through the Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90). The prevalence of a likely PTSD in the earthquake zone was 1.9% (4.4% near the epicenter) and the total PTSD score in the affected area was significantly higher than in the control zone. 14.9% of youths living in the earthquake zone had a borderline/abnormal SDQ total difficulties score and 87.5% of youth with a likely PTSD also had a SDQ total score in the borderline/abnormal range. Regression analysis showed that the number of lifetime traumatic events (e.g., death of a relative) was the best predictor of children/adolescents psychological difficulties 2 years after the earthquake, followed by severity of exposure (personal injuries and losses) and parental psychopathology. Despite some limitations, this study highlights that youths may exhibit PTSD symptoms years after disasters, often in comorbidity with behavioral/emotional difficulties, stressing the need for long-term surveillance and interventions in exposed populations.