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Stress, anxiety and depression common in quake hit areas

Stress, anxiety and depression common in worst affected areas 10 months after the quakes

October 22, 2012

A University of Canterbury research survey has found acute stress, anxiety and depression especially in the worst affected areas, after last February’s earthquake in Christchurch.

UC researcher Amy Rowlands found an association between depression, losses and disruptions for survivors. Her study compared depression symptoms in two demographically matched communities differentially affected by the earthquakes and involved 200 participants.

She carried out two door-to-door surveys in a more quake-affected community and a relatively less affected community four months after the February 2011 earthquake. Participants were again assessed with a follow up survey 10 months after the quake.

Measures of depression, acute stress, anxiety, losses, physical disruptions and psychological disruptions were taken. In addition, prior psychological symptoms, medication, alcohol and cigarette use were assessed.

Clinically significant levels of depression, acute stress and anxiety symptoms were found in the more affected community.

``Participants in the more affected community reported greater symptoms of depression than the less affected community a year after the February earthquake. Prolonged periods of helplessness and ongoing post-disaster disruptions, along with distress and anxiety were factors associated with depression.

``The more physically affected community were dealing with ongoing daily disruptions, shovelling silt from liquefaction all over again following large aftershocks, loss of utilities, living in severely damaged houses and for others relocation as their homes became uninhabitable with further quakes, loss of neighbourhood and many community social networks had gone.

``In addition there was an increase in alcohol consumption reported as a result of the quakes and is an important finding especially as increased alcohol use is a common characteristic of depression following disaster as people try to cope with stressors, and is consistent with previous post-disaster research.

``Supportive interventions and services directed towards depression, and other psychological symptoms, may prove helpful in psychological adjustment following the ongoing disruptive stressors and quakes,’’ Rowlands said.

Another UC researcher Charlotte Renouf carried out similar studies in other suburbs. She surveyed residents of two Christchurch suburbs differentially affected by the earthquakes.

They were twice assessed on measures of acute stress disorder, generalised anxiety, and depression at 4-5 months apart in order to determine whether symptoms intensified or declined in the face of ongoing aftershocks.

Clinically significant levels of acute stress were identified in both suburbs, whereas clinically elevated depression and anxiety were only evident in the most affected suburb.

In the later survey, both suburbs had fallen below the clinical range on all symptom types. Acute stress symptoms were the most highly associated with the aftershocks.

``Symptoms of generalised anxiety and depression may be more likely associated with other earthquake-related factors, such as insurance troubles and less frequent socialising,’’ Renouf said.

``People’s exposure to ongoing earthquake aftershocks may have important implications for the assessment of traumatic stress-related disorders and provision of services following natural disasters.’’

The large community research study was interested in psychological responses following the earthquakes and was supervised by Associate Professor Martin Dorahy and Dr Eileen Britt.

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