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Time to be kind as the gap in Canterbury widens

19 February 2014

Time to be kind as the gap in Canterbury widens

As Canterbury approaches the third anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake, disaster recovery and mental health experts are urging those affected to look after themselves and each other.

Australian disaster psychologist, Dr Rob Gordon (who works for New Zealand Red Cross) says the fourth year of recovery after any big disaster brings new pressures.

“Typically by this stage our circumstances are becoming much more varied. Some feel they’re well on the way to having damage and problems resolved and making a new life, while others haven’t been able to get started yet,” says Dr Gordon.

He says that means we need to preserve patience and tolerance and reserve judgement of others who are not in the same situation as ourselves.

Public health specialist for the All Right? project, Dr Lucy D’Aeth, says soon to be released research backs up Dr Gordon’s advice.

”Preliminary results from All Right’s latest research suggest the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”, those who are recovering well and those who are ‘stuck’, is growing,” says Dr D’Aeth

Dr D’Aeth says international research shows recovery from any disaster can make the vulnerable even more vulnerable.

“Tragically, this seems to be what is happening in Christchurch. High rents, lack of affordable housing and the various other secondary stressors are taking the biggest toll on those who are least able to deal with them.”

“We have a growing number of people who are moving on with their lives and are excited about the future, and others who are still unable to progress as they’re dealing with issues that seem beyond their control,” says Dr D’aeth.]

“A healthy recovery is one where nobody is left behind. This is a time when we all need to be patient with each other – we are involved in a long, slow, complicated process so looking out for ourselves and each other, especially those who are ‘doing it hard’, is crucial so we don’t lose Canterbury’s incredible sense of community.”

Dr Gordon says fatigue is also a problem at this stage of recovery.

“The longer we are out of our normal routines and facing challenges, the more of an issue fatigue is,” says Dr Gordon.

Dr D’Aeth agrees.

“Early indications from our research also show many Cantabrians are exhausted. Life can be tiring at the best of times, but add in stressors like roadworks, insurance issues, battling to find somewhere to live long term, finding temporary accommodation while repairs are carried out, or living with family members for extended periods and some Cantabrians are finding life very tiring.”

Dr Gordon says Cantabrians need to be very conscious about taking care of themselves.

“Look after your health, ensure you have a good balance between work and leisure and connect with others. Ask yourself ‘what do I need to do to keep myself in a good space of mind?’” says Dr Gordon.

“It’s all about making the little things which help us feel better a priority. So many things are out of our hands in Canterbury but we mustn’t underestimate how the small things …like catching up with friends, a walk in the park or just noticing the amazing Canterbury sunsets…can improve our mental health and wellbeing,” says Dr D’Aeth.

“These things are not trivial – they are what makes life worth living,” concludes Dr D’Aeth.


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