Earthquakes trigger 'post-traumatic growth'

00:10, Jan 27 2013

People who were in Christchurch for all of the major earthquakes are more likely to experience life-changing decisions.

A University of Otago, Christchurch study has found people's levels of 'post-traumatic growth' are higher depending on the amount of traumatic events they have experienced.

More than 50 summer students from the university presented summaries of their research on Friday, including several quake-related projects.

Rebekah Smith studied post-traumatic growth amount Canterbury residents and found 92 per cent of participants reported being stronger after the quakes.

Others said they had changed their priorities in life because living through the earthquakes had made them understand what was important.

''A higher number of traumatic events was associated with higher levels of post-traumatic growth,'' Smith said.


She also found people with tertiary-level education reported more post-traumatic growth. Smith said older women showed higher levels of growth than younger women while younger men showed higher levels than older men.

Leila Marie studied the effect of the quakes on alcohol and substance abuse and, contrary to expectations, found people were not drinking more.

However, a large proportion of study participants reported drinking to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression despite self-identifying as coping well with the earthquakes and their effects.

''Those who have a lower capacity to positively adapt to or recover from a traumatic experience are more likely to consume alcohol to cope with negative affective states,'' Marie said.

Matthew Chamberlain studied the psychological impact of the quakes on Christchurch general practice patients and found distress levels were similar across ages and gender.

However, on the Kessler psychological distress scale, Pacific Island and Asian people reported higher levels of unease.

''People from the southern suburbs, including Sumner and Lyttelton, has lower Kessler scores.''
Chamberlain said risk factors, such as poor social support, may play a more important role than factors like age.

Fairfax Media