The Canterbury region in general and Christchurch in particular has been rocked by a series of earthquakes since September 2010.
The initial 7.1 magnitude earthquake on 4th September 2010 centred on Darfield in rural Canterbury, followed by a large number of aftershocks.The most significant of these was a magnitude 6.3 earthquake which was centred on Christchurch city, causing extensive damage and the loss of 185 lives.
In the years since then, there has been a marked reduction in the frequency and severity of aftershocks, though seismologists predict that relatively small aftershocks are likely to occur (with decreasing frequency) for quite some time yet.
New Zealand remains a seismically active country and a significant earthquake (magnitude 7.8) centred on Kaikoura on 14th November 2016 did damage to that rural town (though not Christchurch) and blocked one of the main highways in the South Island for an extended period.
The mental health effects of the earthquakes were very similar to other natural disasters. After an initial drop in demand for psychiatric services during the early phases post quakes, there was an increase in presentations of all kind of health conditions, including psychiatric disorders.
Although there were some true PTSD cases, most of the mental health presentations were with high prevalence disorders such as anxiety and depression.
For many in the population, the difficulties dealing with issues such as the dislocation of housing, schooling and work as well as the complicated dealings with the EQC (Earthquake Commission) and insurance companies were more stressful than the direct effects of the quakes themselves.
For a period after the initial earthquakes, our mental health services offered earthquake related individual and group treatments at primary care and secondary care levels and the response to the earthquakes was the subject of research.
These earthquake specific mental health initiatives have now concluded, but there are still significantly increased rates of referrals of a wide range of mental health problems to Mental Health Services.
It is worth noting that the effects of this series of earthquakes were far from uniform across the city.
Many suburbs, particularly those in the North and West of the city, were relatively little affected while other areas, particularly in the city’s Eastern and Hill suburbs as well as the City Centre, sustained significant damage.
In the last few years, the focus has been very much on rebuilding. There have been major infrastructure works, particularly replacing underground services and roading, all around the city.
The Central Business District, which was badly damaged in the February 2011 earthquake, is being rebuilt and restructured according to a comprehensive redevelopment plan. Most of the private households in the city have now completed their earthquake repairs.
All of this rebuild activity has been associated with a boom in the local economy.
For a period after the earthquakes, dislocated residents and the influx of rebuild workers meant that housing was in short supply.
However, with the repair to many homes being completed and new areas of housing development, this accommodation shortage has greatly improved.
Christchurch city residents are now also enjoying new arts, sporting and cultural projects which have helped revitalize the city. The rebuild process is expected to provide us with a truly world-class urban environment.
Last updated: July 2017.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists psychiatry training in Christchurch, New Zealand