Quake stress creates the 'new vulnerable'

20:39, Mar 18 2014
Roger Sutton March 2014
CANTERBURY STRESS: Cera boss Roger Sutton speaks to the news media about the wellbeing survey released today.

Middle-aged Cantabrians living previously comfortable lives have been identified as a new at-risk group for post-earthquake stress.

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's (Cera) third wellbeing survey released yesterday showed "secondary stressors" - including insurance woes, living in a damaged environment and loss of recreational facilities - had replaced aftershocks and safety fears as the biggest concerns.

The survey was conducted by Nielsen Research between August and October 2013, with 2476 residents selected randomly from the electoral roll in Christchurch city, Selwyn and Waimakariri.

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton said an area of focus was the "new vulnerable" - a group aged between 35 and 49 whose lives were previously "under control".

They were unlikely to have sought support from social agencies in the past, he said.

"Prior to the quakes, they had ordered, easy lives, and they've become much more disordered because they may have had to move, their jobs may have become more difficult [or] may have had insurance issues."


Their exact numbers could not be determined, Sutton said.

Families in that category would take part in focus groups.

"There's a concept that previously vulnerable people in society were often linked up with support agencies and they knew how to ask for support. There's this new group of people who haven't needed support before and we've never really had to work out how we get them support and assistance."

While the survey showed some Cantabrians were happier with their lives, Sutton said there was a "significant group of people whose lives are very difficult and frustrating".

Cera had intervened in ongoing insurance and Earthquake Commission (EQC) issues by creating the Residential Advisory Service, the Winter Make it Right programme, and by offering counselling and support services.

"All of the groups involved are keenly working together but, parallel to that, I expect to see EQC and insurers continuing to strengthen their own processes to minimise the stress on residents and deliver on their forecast deadlines," Sutton said.

Disaster recovery psychologist Rob Gordon said the complexity of post-disaster stress was "hard for people to grasp".

"We have to be cautious about simple measures of vulnerability, and this particular disaster has got so many issues to do with the rebuild that are essentially out of people's hands. In many other disasters, it's fundamentally up to the people," he said.

Minor aggravations, including traffic and damaged roads, could snowball by creating more "work time".

"It's this loss of leisure that I think really puts people in a very stressed lifestyle because they can never come down. When people are in routine they can have the constant periods when they can unwind," Gordon said.

Canterbury Communities' Earthquake Recovery Network spokesman Brian Parker said because the new vulnerable were not used to seeking help they risked "not doing anything", which added to the stress.

"They don't get found either because they think they have to sit it out and don't think they do have options," he said.

Identifying them was a "bloody difficult job".

"How do you connect with these people, apart from going to every individual household?"

A community-driven website called In the Know was set up this month as a one-stop shop for quake rebuild information.

Parker, who had taken the first Cera survey, said he found many of the questions difficult to answer.

"I know that I had dealt with a lot of stress, but I'd moved to a better place therefore there was less stress - but probably not as good as it was prior to the earthquakes," he said.

The full survey results can be found at cera.govt.nz.


73 per cent rated the quality of their life as good or extremely good.

6 per cent rated their quality of life poorly.

23 per cent indicated their quality of life has deteriorated compared to 12 months ago.

18 per cent believe there has been an improvement in their quality of life. 78 per cent experienced stress at least sometime in the past 12 months that had a negative effect on their lives.

22 per cent indicated they had been living with this type of stress most or all of the time in the past year.

The Press