Thousands of Alaskans report post-earthquake anxiety and other psychological distress in study

Jennifer and Toni Skilja stand outside their home the morning of the earthquake on Nov. 30, 2018 (Courtesy Jennifer Skilja)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Data collected from a Dept. of Health and Social Services survey show for the first time some of the health impacts experienced by residents of Southcentral Alaska as a result of the Nov. 30 earthquake.

The Division of Public Health collected data from more than 3,000 respondents between Dec. 19 and Jan. 17, a small number of whom reported experiencing physical injuries, and many more who reported increased feelings of anxiety, fear, and other psychological symptoms in the weeks following the earthquake.

The results do come with a disclaimer — as a result of the sampling method used, the data is not generalizable to the entire population of Southcentral Alaska. The results do however provide actionable information for state agencies and healthcare providers according to Center for Disease Control Epidemiologist Dr. Kim Porter, who worked on the report.

“That is something that we are going to try to do — we’re going to try to identify ways that we can fill some of the needs that respondents identified that are things that public health would be responsible for,“ Porter said.

In the results, one source of actionable intelligence comes from data about how certain people prefer receiving emergency updates.

Porter says most people received earthquake updates from social media, but would have preferred direct text messages from government agencies.

“We were really looking for kind of actionable information,” Porter said. “More than 1,000 people told us that they would prefer to receive emergency messaging through text message. That’s something that we can do something about.”

Of the 3,020 survey respondents, 93 percent were from the Mat-Su Borough and Anchorage.

Out of the 2,950 people who answered questions about mental health effects, 78 percent noted increased feelings of anxiety, fear, distraction, worry, trouble sleeping, and panic attacks.

59 percent of respondents with kids (985) reported that their children also experienced some form of anxiety.

"I think what really struck us particularly was the high proportion of respondents who reported feeling some sort of psychological distress,” Dr. Porter said. “More than three quarters of respondents reported that."

223 respondents (eight percent) reported suffering physical injuries happened during the earthquake, while 252 (eight percent) reported injuries that happened during cleanup. Most were minor injuries like superficial cuts, strains and sprains.

Only three people reported being hospitalized.

The full report includes resources for families who are experiencing post-traumatic stress from the earthquake.

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