Earthquakes and Mental Health

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October 2021
Paper author(s): 
Luisito Bertinelli
Clotilde Mahé
Eric Strobl
Education - Health

 Earthquakes may seriously deteriorate mental health by generating fear and stress as a result of economic and human losses. However, mental health has also been found to improve as a result of greater social cohesion in affected communities after the event. We examine the short-run effects of earthquakes on a wide set of mental health outcomes in Ecuador. To this end, we combine hospital admissions, death records, and survey data with precise measures of local seismic activity to exploit the plausibly random spatial and temporal nature of earthquake intensity. We find that damaging earthquakes decrease the propensity to be admitted, the number of days of hospitalisation for mental and behavioural disorders, and deaths due to suicide. Estimates from nationally-representative surveys provide suggestive evidence of increased life satisfaction, trust, and religious observance, and thus provide a possible explanation for the fall in admissions and suicides after an earthquake.


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