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Watson, "Depression in offspring following severe prenatal stress," 1998

USC dissertation in Psychotherapy.
August 24, 2009

Jennifer Bunn Watson, M.A

Abstract (Summary)

In 1976 a severe earthquake (7.8) struck Tangshan, China. The earthquake provides the opportunity to examine the impact of maternal stress on fetal neurodevelopment. It was hypothesized that exposure to this severe earthquake is related to increased depressive symptomotology in the offspring.

Depressive symptomotology was examined in 1215 18-year old students using the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAMD) and the Self Rating Depression Scale. Half were exposed to the Tangshan earthquake in utero, and the other half were not exposed (controls). The exposed subjects are equally distributed across all nine months of gestation for earthquake exposure; control subjects were born a year later and matched for birth date.

Exposure to maternal stress in utero was associated with more depressive symptoms in exposed subjects as compared to control subjects on the HAMD, Yuen's (688.9) = 7.8, p $<$.001 and the SDS, Yue's (728.1) = 2.5, p =.01.

Earthquake exposure while in utero may have negative effects on mood later in life.