Many Chch quake survivors avoided post-traumatic stress
UK expert says many Christchurch quake survivors avoided post-traumatic stress disorder
September 18, 2013
A UK expert visiting the University of Canterbury (UC) says she is struck by so many people who have been through the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch but have not developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dr Amy Milton from the University of Cambridge is researching psychiatric disorders and spending time in Christchurch, getting to see the city and to know the people.
``It has been enlightening with regard to my understanding of PTSD. What is particularly striking is the way in which so many people, having been through the extremely traumatic events of the earthquakes and the very many aftershocks, have not gone on to develop PTSD.
``Although it is always difficult to know the prevalence of disorders like PTSD, the incidence of PTSD after other natural disasters, such as the earthquake in Armenia in the 1990s, has been reported to be as high as 60 percent of the population.
``Even though the Canterbury District Health Board has reported an increase in the number of people asking for prescriptions of antidepressants, the proportion of the population is much lower than might be expected.
``Much of the research into PTSD in the past has focused on understanding the factors that make an individual vulnerable to the disorder, but more recently work has begun on understanding what makes a particular person resilient to developing the disorder after a traumatic event.
``There are hypotheses from studies on a relatively small number of individuals that there are differences in brain structure and function between those who do and do not develop PTSD.
``It seems to me that the population of earthquake survivors in Christchurch presents a large population who could help to test these hypotheses and to enhance our understanding of protective factors against PTSD.
``Knowing what makes an individual resilient might then be used to inform the development of treatments for those who do develop the disorder.’’
Dr Milton says it has been fascinating working with UC psychology experts such as Professor Simon Kemp and Associate Professor Neville Blampied who have carried out relevant post-earthquake research.
Dr Milton is an Erskine visitor to UC. The Erskine Programme was established in 1963 following a generous bequest by former distinguished UC student John Erskine. Dr Milton has been researching with Dr Juan Canales at UC’s Psychology Department.