Study shows impact of quake stress

Last updated 13:33 17/07/2014
Professor David Fergusson
Professor David Fergusson

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People who experienced serious quake-related adversity are twice as likely to be addicted to smoking and 40 per cent more likely to develop mental health conditions such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than those who did not experience the disaster, the new research shows.

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However, rates of drinking and illicit drug-taking do not increase significantly in those adversely affected by earthquakes.

For Cantabrians who experienced minimal trauma, loss or ongoing disruption associated with the quakes, the psychological impact was less strong.

The findings are contained in a paper by Christchurch researchers for the University of Otago and are published in the latest edition of the prestigious JAMA Psychiatry Journal.

The researchers were able to use data from a long-term study by Professor David Fergusson and his Christchurch Health and Development Study colleagues on the mental health of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury during 1977.

Just over half of study participants were in Canterbury for the majority of the earthquakes.

The key findings of the team were:

• Cantabrians who experienced serious adversity, both through earthquake events and following consequences, were 40 per cent more likely than those living outside the region to have at least one of several kinds of disorder, including major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorder.

• Rates of clinically significant nicotine dependence were 1.9 times higher in the group of people most affected by earthquakes compared to those not affected by quakes.

• Rates of drinking and illicit drug-taking did not increase significantly in those adversely affected by earthquakes.

The findings were likely to apply to other areas affected by major disasters and highlighted the need to provide increased support to those most severely affected, Fergusson said.

''It is also clear, however, that the majority of those facing disasters are resilient and do not develop mental health problems.''

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The study appeared to show the psychological impact of the quakes could have been worse if community spirit were not so strong, he said.

''A key consideration (in studying the impact of Canterbury quakes) is the well-organised and responsive way in which the Canterbury community responded to these disasters with widespread support for those families affected by the disasters. This is likely to have acted as a protective factor in mitigating the consequence for those with high levels of exposure to earthquake-related adversity.''

Because the study's participants are all aged in their early 30s, the findings are less informative for older or younger people.

- The Press


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