Psychological Medicine

Original Article

Stress and well-being in mothers of young children 11 years after the Chornobyl nuclear power plant accident 1

R. E.  ADAMS  a1, E. J.  BROMET  c1 a1, N.  PANINA  a1, E.  GOLOVAKHA  a1, D.  GOLDGABER  a1 and S.  GLUZMAN  a1
a1 From the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, State University of New York at Stony Brook, NY, USA; and Institute of Sociology Academy of Sciences of the Ukraine and Ukraine Psychiatric Association, Kyiv, Ukraine


Background. This paper examines the association between exposure to the Chornobyl nuclear power plant explosion and the psychological and physical well-being of mothers with young children. The study also examines whether exposure to Chornobyl increased the vulnerability of mothers to subsequent economic and social stress, and thus represents a unique test of the stress–vulnerability model in a non-Western setting.

Method. The sample consisted of mothers evacuated from the contamination zone surrounding the plant (evacuees) and mothers who had never lived in a radiation-contaminated area (controls). In addition to exposure status, the interview obtained data on perceived economic stress, social stress and stress moderators. The dependent variables were measured by the SCL-90 global severity index (GSI), perceived physical health and number of days unable to work due to illness.

Results. Overall, evacuees reported fewer stressors and greater personal and social resources than control mothers. Nevertheless, evacuees scored higher on the GSI, reported lower perceived physical health and took more sick days relative to control mothers, even after controlling for demographic factors, stressors and stress moderators. Tests of interaction effects were not statistically significant.

Conclusions. The findings confirmed that married women with young children evacuated to Kyiv following the Chornobyl nuclear power plant explosion reported significantly poorer psychological and perceived physical health than controls 11 years later. Although perceived social and economic adversities also affected these outcomes, there was no evidence that exposure to the Chornobyl accident increased the vulnerability of mothers to these stressors, giving support to the additive burden model of stress.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Evelyn J. Bromet, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Putnam Hall-South Campus, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8790, USA.


1 This study is a collaborative project with investigators in Ukraine, where the fieldwork was conducted. The paper follows the original Ukrainian spelling for Chornobyl (Chernobyl) and Kyiv (Kiev).