Childhood life events and psychological symptoms in adult survivors of the 2004 tsunami

Negative life events in childhood have an adverse influence on adult psychological health and increase vulnerability to subsequent potential traumas. It remains unclear whether this is also true in the case of disasters.


This study investigates whether the experience of negative life events in childhood and adolescence was associated with psychological symptoms in groups of Swedish survivors with different types of exposure to the tsunami.


1505 survivors from Stockholm responded to a questionnaire on psychological distress, which was sent by post 14 months after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Psychological distress was measured by General Health Questionnaire-12 and suicidal ideation and posttraumatic stress was measured by Impact of Event Scale-Revised. Life events prior to age 16 were collected and categorised under the indices accident, violence, loss and interpersonal events. Exposure to the tsunami was categorised in different types, and controlled for in the analyses.


With the adjustment for confounders, significant odds-ratios were found for all indices on at least one outcome measure, despite the powerful effect of the tsunami. We could not discern any distinct difference in the distribution of the tendency to report the different outcomes depending on types of prior life events.


The implication of the study is that, for adult survivors of disaster, the reporting of adverse life events from childhood may influence future decisions regarding therapy.


  • Lars Wahlström, PhD, MD
  • Hans Michélsen, Ast Prof, PsyD
  • Abbe Schulman, PhD, MD
  • Magnus Backheden, MS