Quake-city strugglers left behind

Last updated 05:00 25/02/2014

Chch quake: then and now

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As Christchurch enters its third post-disaster year, the gap between the "haves and the have-nots" is growing, new Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) research suggests.

Preliminary results from the CDHB's latest All Right? project tell the story of a city divided.

Some Cantabrians were excited about the future, while others were still battling with authorities.

The gap between the haves, who were in newly repaired houses, and the have nots, who were in broken homes "dealing with issues that seem beyond their control", was widening, CDHB public health specialist Dr Lucy D'Aeth said.

"We are beginning to see the things we most feared in public health," she said.

International post-disaster trends show antisocial behaviour, suicide attempts and mental health referrals often peak in the third year of recovery and Christchurch is following the trend.

Psychiatric presentations to the CDHB were at an all-time high, with emergency services fielding a 35 per cent increase of new patients over the past two years.

Each month, more than 400 people access the psychiatric emergency service suffering from acute mental distress, delusions, hallucinations or self-harm.

With the recovery accelerating and mental health issues rapidly increasing, D'Aeth warned one of the biggest risks the city faced was that some citizens would be "left behind".

Christchurch had always had a gap between its lower and higher socio-economic populations but with a lack of affordable housing and sky-rocketing rental prices, life had become harder for those suffering before the quakes, she said.

Post-disaster research showed the recovery could make the vulnerable even more so and "tragically, this seems to be what is happening in Christchurch", D'Aeth said.

Secondary stressors, including housing, were "taking the biggest toll on those who are least able to deal with them".

"This is a time when we all need to be patient with each other - we are involved in a long, slow, complicated process so looking out for ourselves and each other, especially those who are ‘doing it hard' is crucial," she said.

Australian-based disaster recovery psychologist Dr Rob Gordon, who works for New Zealand Red Cross, urged Cantabrians to preserve patience and tolerance and "reserve judgment" of others who were not in the same situation as themselves.

D'Aeth said results from the All Right? project verified many Cantabrians were "exhausted".

Both experts suggested balancing out work and leisure and making things which help us feel better a priority.

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- The Press


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