Cantabrians who experienced serious earthquake-related adversity are twice as likely to be addicted to smoking and 40 per cent more likely to have mental health conditions such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than people who did not experience the ’quakes, findings from the Christchurch Health and Development Study show.
However, for Cantabrians who experienced minimal trauma, loss or ongoing disruption associated with the ’quakes, the psychological impact was less strong.
The findings from the University of Otago, Christchurch’s longitudinal study were published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal.
The researchers, led by Professor David Fergusson, are in a unique position to gather facts on the psychological impact of earthquakes. For more than 30 years Fergusson and his colleagues have collected in-depth data on the mental health of a group of more than 1,000 people born in Canterbury during 1977. By chance, just over half of study participants were in Canterbury for the majority of the ’quakes.
“These findings are likely to apply to other areas affected by major disasters and highlight the need to provide increased support to those most severely affected by these disasters.”
It is also clear, however, that the majority of those facing disasters are resilient and do not develop mental health problems," Fergusson says.
The findings of Fergusson’s study relate to those aged in their early 30s (study participants) and are less informative for older or younger people.
The study was funded by the Health Research Council, Cure Kids, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.