Open Access Research article

Use of mental health services among disaster survivors: predisposing factors

Dirk-Jan den Ouden1*, Peter G van der Velden2, Linda Grievink3, Mattijn Morren1, Anja JE Dirkzwager1 and C Joris Yzermans1

Author Affiliations

1 Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 Institute for Psychotrauma (IVP), Zaltbommel, The Netherlands

3 Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:173  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-173

Published: 24 July 2007



Given the high prevalence of mental health problems after disasters it is important to study health services utilization. This study examines predictors for mental health services (MHS) utilization among survivors of a man-made disaster in the Netherlands (May 2000).


Electronic records of survivors (n = 339; over 18 years and older) registered in a mental health service (MHS) were linked with general practice based electronic medical records (EMRs) of survivors and data obtained in surveys. EMR data were available from 16 months pre-disaster until 3 years post-disaster. Symptoms and diagnoses in the EMRs were coded according to the International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC). Surveys were carried out 2–3 weeks and 18 months post-disaster, and included validated questionnaires on psychological distress, post-traumatic stress reactions and social functioning. Demographic and disaster-related variables were available. Predisposing factors for MHS utilization 0–18 months and 18–36 months post-disaster were examined using multiple logistic regression models.


In multiple logistic models, adjusting for demographic and disaster related variables, MHS utilization was predicted by demographic variables (young age, immigrant, public health insurance, unemployment), disaster-related exposure (relocation and injuries), self-reported psychological problems and pre- and post-disaster physician diagnosed health problems (chronic diseases, musculoskeletal problems). After controlling for all health variables, disaster intrusions and avoidance reactions (OR:2.86; CI:1.48–5.53), hostility (OR:2.04; CI:1.28–3.25), pre-disaster chronic diseases (OR:1.82; CI:1.25–2.65), injuries as a result of the disaster (OR:1.80;CI:1.13–2.86), social functioning problems (OR:1.61;CI:1.05–2.44) and younger age (OR:0.98;CI:0.96–0.99) predicted MHS utilization within 18 months post-disaster. Furthermore, disaster intrusions and avoidance reactions (OR:2.29;CI:1.04–5.07) and hostility (OR:3.77;CI:1.51–9.40) predicted MHS utilization following 18 months post-disaster.


This study showed that several demographic and disaster-related variables and self-reported and physician diagnosed health problems predicted post-disaster MHS-use. The most important factors to predict post-disaster MHS utilization were disaster intrusions and avoidance reactions and symptoms of hostility (which can be identified as symptoms of PTSD) and pre-disaster chronic diseases.