Mental health takes big hit from quakes

AMY GLASS AND CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2011

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Christchurch earthquake

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Overwhelmed Christchurch residents are seeking help for anxiety, depression and alcohol issues, health providers say.

Canterbury mental health liaison officer Cerina Altenburg said people who were only "just managing" after the previous earthquakes were now seeking professional help.

The pressure of financial instability with no sense of an outcome or solution meant people were "in limbo".

"We are seeing anxiety and depression, and harmful use of alcohol."

People who had never needed psychological support were now seeking help. Some residents were struggling with relationships and people who lived alone, particularly the elderly, were vulnerable.

The Government was funding free psychological support for Canterbury residents, she said.

The Anglican Bishop, the Right Rev Victoria Matthews, said she was seeing a "deep weariness of soul" among Christchurch residents.

Matthews said residents were "shellshocked and deeply, deeply exhausted".

"I don't think it was lack of sleep. It was the exhaustion that comes from once again trying to reconstruct your life after a major earthquake. People are asking how many times they can go through this," she said.

"It is losing power, water and sewerage once again.

"It is the sheer worry as soon as a 6.3 happens of whether your friends and family are safe. This is going to be a huge challenge to the spiritual and mental health of the community. I think we will overcome it, but we need to recognise that we need encouragement and opportunities for entertainment and laughter."

Matthews said war veterans were better able to deal with aftershocks.

"I was talking to an elderly man the other day who had lived through war, and been evacuated six times in his life. He knows the drills, so to speak. But the people who are actually at the frontline now, we don't," she said.

"We are a generation who have never been through a war, never lived through a sustained, critical period like this. That makes it really difficult."

The demand for support services for children was also increasing with every aftershock, Save the Children New Zealand project manager Leah Carr said yesterday.

"The eastern suburbs have been the ones where demand has been the greatest," she said. "We have recently completed a series of programmes for parents and caregivers in the Sumner and Redcliff areas and are about to start with an additional three schools in the eastern suburbs."

Massey University sociologist Miriam Hughes, who works with the Joint Centre for Disaster Research, said Christchurch residents would be suffering from a cumulative quake effect, resulting in sleep problems, relationship disturbances and "life disturbance".

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"Some people are having a difficult time; some are taking it in their stride. People struggling to cope with the lack of control over what has happened shouldn't be told to `harden up'," she said.

While some people found it helpful to arm themselves with quake knowledge, others would "rather not know".

Because New Zealand had not seen such natural disasters in its recent history, people were struggling to deal with the uncertain situation.

However, Hughes said society would learn a lot from the disasters.

- The Press

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