Quake psycho-social effects linger

SAMANTHA GEE AND KYLE KNOWLES
Last updated 05:00 18/06/2014

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Earthquake-affected Cantabrians are feeling more tired and overwhelmed than ever, new research shows.

A survey of 800 residents found almost two-thirds felt tired - up 10 per cent on 2012 - and fewer than half were regularly sleeping well.

Huntsbury resident Mel Opie, whose life is "on hold" until her family's insurance issues are resolved, was surprised the figures were not higher.

"We have done well to shield our kids, but our family is definitely feeling the effects," she said.

Opawa resident Jo Wilson, whose seven-week house repairs are still unfinished 20 months on, said she was frustrated with the whole process.

"It's the constant thinking about how you can't put this behind you," she said. "It definitely affects your sleep."

The survey, conducted for Christchurch health initiative All Right?, found that life had become a lot harder for many residents since 2012, when a similar survey was done.

Those who were still waiting to have their claims settled with the Earthquake Commission were struggling the most, and more than two in five felt stressed and frustrated, compared with only a third of those whose claims were settled.

All Right? public health specialist Dr Lucy D'Aeth said the earthquakes had been stressful enough but insurance negotiations, rebuild and repair work, and traffic problems introduced new stresses.

This was known as the disillusionment phase and was "characterised by frustration, exhaustion and being overwhelmed by the enormity of what we face", she said.

International research shows recovering emotionally from disaster can take between five and 10 years, and nearly half of the Christchurch survey respondents said they were still struggling.

The Canterbury District Health Board's (CDHB) psychiatric emergency service has fielded a 35 per cent increase in patients since 2011 and its child and youth community mental health service a 40 per cent increase in demand.

Mental Health Foundation mental health promoter Ciaran Fox said the research, which showed fewer respondents ate well or had a lot of hobbies and interests, indicated Cantabrians needed to take steps to prioritise their own well-being.

There were some positive results in the survey. Residents were less likely to feel angry than in 2012 and four in five said they had a better sense of what was important to them.

The research is part of the Mental Health Foundation and CDHB's All Right? Campaign, which was launched last year to mitigate the psycho-social effects of the quakes.

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