Paper by Evelyn Bromet PhD Reviews Psychological Consequences of Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Disaster

April 26, 2011 will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that created the worst nuclear disaster in history. Evelyn Bromet, PhD and colleagues recognized the occasion by conducting a 25-year retrospective review of the psychological consequences of the Chernobyl accident, published electronically by the Journal of Clinical Oncology in advance of publication.

In the article, Dr. Bromet and her colleagues review current knowledge about the psychological effects of the Chernobyl disaster on three groups: clean-up workers; children exposed in utero or early infancy; and adult populations, primarily mothers of young children.

Dr. Bromet finds compelling evidence in the literature that clean-up workers, known as liquidators, suffer long-term negative psychological effects from their experiences at Chernobyl. Researchers have discovered higher suicide mortality rates and significantly higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and PTSD among these workers. The effects of the accident on children are less clear. Some studies found no significant psychological or cognitive differences between exposed and unexposed children, while more recent studies suggest increases in symptoms of depression and ADHD. Studies of adult populations revealed elevated rates of psychological distress and concerns about health, particularly among mothers of children affected by the accident.

Dr. Bromet concludes that after twenty-five years of study, “There is no doubt that Chernobyl had an effect on the mental health of adults directly affected by the event, especially the liquidators and women with young children…” She argues that further study is necessary to understand the scope and magnitude of the effects, as well as the mechanisms that produce them. She concludes with three suggestions: that future studies be combined with interventions to reduce the psychological harm of the accident, that physicians be trained to recognize and treat the psychological consequences of the disaster, and that mental health research be integrated into epidemiological studies of cancer and other health outcomes related to the accident.

Dr. Bromet is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at Stony Brook University. The Journal of Clinical Oncology is the official journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.