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Chernobyl Nuclear Accident linked to spread of Mental Illness
July 6, 1995
MENTAL DISORDERS SAID SPREADING AMONG CHERNOBYL-AFFECTED PEOPLE
This week the periodical "Nucleonics Week" reported some initial findings that suggest rates of mental disorders have increased in Russia due to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor radiation accident that took place there in 1986.
The news weekly reported that a recent international conference in Kiev, according to presentations, research shows a continuing rise in the disease rate among all victims of Chernobyl. While all participants recognized that mental disorders had been spawned by the disaster, there is still debate about the influence of radiation in the genesis of mental disorders.
Entitled ''Mental Health Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster: Current State and Future Prospects,'' the conference was initiated by the Physicians of Chernobyl association and was organized by the World Health Organization, the Ukraine Academy of Medical Sciences, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry for Chernobyl Affairs, and the Ukraine State Committee for Nuclear Power Utilization. Listed as cosponsors were the three organizations responsible for the Chernobyl site today -- Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Scientific & Production Association Pripiat, and international scientific & technical center Ukrytie (Shelter). The conference drew western experts and organizations including the International Consortium for Research on the Health Effects of Radiation, the UNESCO Chernobyl Program, and the European Commission.
Conference leaders approved a resolution saying the conference concluded that most arguments indicate a synergistic relation between radiation and psychogeneous factors.
This population perceived that it had high levels of radiation and socio-economic risk. More than 90% registered an increased incidence of cerebrovascular pathologies that usually occur only after the age of 80. Researchers interpreted this as a possible indication of premature aging of the self-residents' nervous systems.
Four of the 250 people examined were diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
A team of psychiatrists from the Netherlands conducted research on mental health problems in Belarus' Gomel region, heavily contaminated by the 1986 accident, with a control group study in the Russian region of Tver, north of Moscow and not directly affected by Chernobyl. The results indicate a very high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in both regions. Depressive disorders were more frequent in Tver, but all scores on self-reported complaints were significantly higher in the Gomel Region, they found.
Investigation of the clinical-statistical characteristics of schizophrenic
processes in residents of the contaminated regions showed a high incidence
of the disease, with main clinical symptoms of sub-psychotic level and
purely affective pathology. No increase in schizophrenia incidence compared
to that in the pre-accident period was registered. Nevertheless, the onset
of schizophrenia was characterized by greater psychopathological severity.
Another report to the conference recounted a statistical analysis of residents of the Semipalatinsk (nuclear) Test Site region in Kazakhstan, which researchers said showed that nuclear incidents can have remote mental consequences.
According to the results, half of all registered patients residing in the area are suffering from mental retardation (49.5%). The second most frequent pathology is schizophrenia (29%). Schizophrenia was prevalent among those over 40 years old (42.3%), i.e., persons born before the first nuclear test explosions in 1949.
In contrast, the older age group had the lowest incidence of mental retardation (8.3%); the majority (61.2%) of the mentally retarded were in the age group 10-30. The data show a significant growth in births of mentally retarded children in the area over the past 30 years. In addition, epilepsy is twice as frequent in the Semipalatinsk area as in the whole of Kazakhstan.
A significant increase in suicides was also observed among residents of the Semipalatinsk region. Over the last 20 years in Kazakhstan, the annual suicide rate averaged 20.5 per 100,000 people. But among those living within 60 kilometers of the test site, the rate was 87.7 per 100,000; among people living 60-120 km from the site it was 29.1, and among those living more than 120 km from the site, 17.3 per 100,000.
Japanese researchers studying the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have found that a patient's distance from the hypocenter of radiation and the clinical symptoms he exhibited at the time of bombing can be used to predict his psychological state even 40 years later, scientists said.