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Earthquakes produced enduring physical, mental health impact

Earthquakes produced enduring physical and mental health impact on people

August 27, 2013

The 2010 and 2011 earthquakes have produced an enduring physical and mental health impact on Christchurch people, a University of Canterbury (UC) expert says.

UC research conducted in the Canterbury region has consistently pointed to an enduring effect on people’s health and also shown the importance of a long-term approach to workers and community support. UC students fared well overall following the earthquakes and one key reason was the peer support from colleagues at the University.

Psychology researcher Dr Joana Kuntz says although a number of earthquake-related studies have been conducted in the working population for the past couple of years, little is known about the impact of major disasters on students’ psychological health and general attitudes.

Along with Dr Katharina Naswall and postgraduate student Sonja Rae, Dr Kuntz will give a presentation on resilience at the first New Zealand Tertiary Engagement Summit at UC on Friday (August 30).

``Our study investigated the relationships between perceptions of institutional (university) support, social support, feelings of burnout, academic performance and perceived employability among third and fourth year students at UC.

``Third year students were selected because they were at the earliest stage of their tertiary education path in February 2011 and were expected to be at greater risk of emotional exhaustion, academic disengagement and perceptions of employability in a recovering university and city.

``Research has consistently shown that both wellbeing and perceived employability are critical factors contributing to job seekers’ motivation and success in finding a job.

``Our results show that perceptions of both immediate and extended university support for students after the earthquakes, but particularly of the support extended over the past three years, have been invaluable in the recovery process. Institutional support was associated with lower feelings of burnout and work overload, and higher perceptions of employability.

``Social support – from family and peers – was also related to lower levels of emotional exhaustion and academic disengagement, and a more optimistic outlook regarding career prospects.

``With regards to academic performance, there were some differences between the undergraduate and postgraduate groups surveyed. While the grade point average of current fourth year students have increased steadily since 2010, the grade point average of third year students was lower in 2012 than in 2011, rising again to their highest level in the first semester of this year.’’

Vincent Ilustre, executive director at Tulane University’s Centre for Public Service in New Orleans, will be the keynote speaker at UC’s summit on Friday.

The summit is part of a drive by UC to engage closely with the community. Already more than 400 students have been involved in UC’s CHCH101 course, launched after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, to build on the Student Volunteer Army’s community engagement work.

ENDS

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