Canterbury mood disorders up post quake, boozing halved

Christchurch Health and Development Study director Professor David Fergusson
Joseph Johnson

Christchurch Health and Development Study director Professor David Fergusson

Health professionals are at a loss to explain the findings of a Canterbury health study showing hazardous drinking has almost halved since the 2011 earthquakes.

One of the first statistical comparisons pre and post-earthquake, the New Zealand Health Survey 2011-2014, has found diagnosed mood or anxiety disorders have increased since the quakes, something many health professionals have already publicly reported.

But another major finding in the Ministry of Health study, which showed hazardous drinking in Canterbury has dropped from 18.8 per cent in the 2006/07 survey to just 9.7 per cent in the 2011/14 survey, has seen health professionals disputing the numbers.

They say more people are seeking help for abusing alcohol, used as a "coping mechanism" post-earthquakes.

Survey results from 2006/2007 were compared with most recent study, which surveyed 3330 adults and 933 children in Canterbury.

Hazardous drinking, defined by future high risk to health, was determined through ten questions developed by the World Health Organization. 

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) alcohol minimisation coordinator Stuart Dodd said the CDHB was in discussions with the Ministry over the findings.

"In Canterbury we've seen about a 25 percent increase in acute in-patient admissions for alcohol-related conditions [since] 2009," he said.

"We are keen to ensure that they [the data] more accurately reflect what we are seeing here in Canterbury in relation to alcohol related harm," he said.

Christchurch Health and Development Study director Professor David Fergusson  said he was surprised by the hazardous drinking findings.

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"I can't explain it at all. The size of the drop is too large to be chance variation," he said.

Between 2006-2007, 16.4 per cent of adults had a diagnosed mood or anxiety disorder, the highest in the country. This increased to 20.7 per cent post earthquakes, according to Ministry data.

Fergusson, who has published research on the earthquake on substance use and mental health, said the data on diagnosed anxiety and mood disorders were consistent with his findings.

"It is well documented and well argued that major life events lead to these problems," he said.

Those most affected by the earthquakes were those who experienced the initial "shock trauma" plus post earthquake problems, Fergusson said.

"A fraction, about a quarter, had relatively high exposures of traumatic shock but also the follow on effects of the earthquakes like housing, employment, access to schools and so on," he said.

Women led the diagnoses, with 26 per cent aged 25 and older, compared to 17.3 per cent of men.

"This is the standard issue with depression and anxiety - they are more prevalent in women and they always have been. Whereas you find alcohol and violence, for example, is more prevalent in men," said Fergusson.

Men were less likely to seek treatment for mood disorders, he said.

The data did not necessarily reflect how the Canterbury population was doing as a whole because it was for official diagnoses by doctors, where people had sought help, he said.

Odyssey House, an addiction treatment facility, clinical director Nigel Loughton said there had been an increase in Canterbury across all mental health, including alcohol dependency, than the rest of the country.

Its mental health and addiction services had seen a rise from about eight referrals a week to between 12 and 15 a week, he said.

Young men led hazardous drinking numbers, with 22 per cent of those aged 15 to 44, as compared to 5.8 per cent of women aged 25 to 44.


 - Stuff

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