Mental health in Canterbury a problem

First there was the earthquakes. Shaking peoples lives apart at all hours of the day. Traumatising children and adults alike. Then there was in short succession in many parts of Christchurch, the odious muddy hell of liquefaction, the nightmare of watching ones house being slowly engulfed by a tide of contaminated mud. And for many there has been the additional anguish of dealing with insurance companies, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and the Earthquake Commission.

Traumatized by all of that? I am not terribly surprised, especially given the gross insensitivity displayed by people in positions of power, with little or no understanding of the situation confronting their clients. But five years on, with the worst shakes (those over magnitude 5.0 having long since stopped, and only rarely a magnitude 4.0+ coming through)having done their dash, the recovery supposedly well underway and people looking to the future, there is a growing mental health crisis in Canterbury. Its victims are people struggling to adjust to a new normality, struggling with the loss of familiar routines, locations and people in their lives. They are unwilling to go into certain buildings, do certain things, are more wary than usual and are losing sleep.

Worse still, it is a crisis that the people wielding the means to tackle are in firm denial about. The Canterbury District Health Board, the Police, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority among others are finding themselves running into a wall of denial, a refusal to accept that the social outlook in Canterbury has some major post-earthquake headaches that are going to get worse before they get better. The deniers are Wellington based bureaucrats. This is despite ample evidence. Suicides and domestic violence rates have both climed substantially in Canterbury, caused by uncertain domestic circumstances and a loss of income, or social security.

Dr Peter Gluckman in May 2011 pointed out these problems and others to the Government in his paper The Psychosocial Consequences of the Canterbury Earthquakes. Dr Gluckman warned that dislocation caused by people leaving Christchurch for areas they perceived to be safer, more secure would also cause mental health issues might make people more stressed as well.

And before people say, “Get over it Christchurch”, I can say this back to you now: “We would be over it a long time ago if our concerns had been dealt with from the outset”. I say this because how Christchurch gets treated could be a blue print for how other New Zealand cities that have major disasters with long term consequences and large loss of lives might be dealt with in the future. I say this because I do not want to see the mistakes made in Christchurch get get repeated elsewhere with possibly worse consequences than those experienced here. I say this because it is worth saying.



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