Mental Health Following Earthquake Disaster

Wednesday 9 March 2011, 11:38AM
By The Royal Australasian College of Physicians



The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists expresses  sorrow for the loss of life and property, injury and trauma resulting from the Christchurch earthquake and is here to support those directly affected and the  health professionals and agencies providing care and assistance. 

   "The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' thoughts are with the people of Christchurch and all New Zealand following the Christchurch earthquake and advises people to be aware of their mental health and wellbeing in the wake of the disaster," said Dr Maria Tomasic, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. 

   "Circumstances of loss, threatened loss and trauma are painful for people and may lead to considerable anguish, particularly for those most directly affected. Most people suffer significant stress immediately after a disaster that is expected to settle slowly over time with practical and supportive help. In Christchurch where people are still experiencing ongoing aftershocks as well as the worry about the effects of damage or loss to their families, homes and businesses, significant symptoms of stress are expectable," said Dr Lyndy Matthews, Chair of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' New Zealand Committee. 

   "There is much that can be done to assist people in dealing with natural disasters in both the immediate aftermath and in the long-term for those who may experience longer lasting effects. Immediate attention is directed to assisting people to recover with appropriate practical and sympathetic support and acknowledgement of loss and grief, as is occurring" said Dr Matthews. 

   "It is important that people monitor their mental health, now and in the months of recovery ahead. Skilled mental health assistance is available to those who need it over the complex period of aftermath and recovery," said Dr Matthews. 

   Where to get help:

People can seek help and advice from health professionals; a telephone counselling service or through their general practitioner: 

   The RANZCP Guide to managing post disaster stress response includes useful web-based resources for people and health professionals caring for those directly affected: 

   What people can do to look after their own mental health:

Key things that people can do to look after their mental health and promote recovery include:

* Staying close to support networks; family and friends – social contact and activity is important to recovery

* Looking after your physical health

* Minimising alcohol intake and avoiding illicit drug use

* Having a daily routine that includes regular meals, activity and rest times 

   We suggest

* Avoiding making permanent major life decisions in the period immediately following the trauma

* Giving yourself time to acknowledge what you have been through, and your emotional reactions to it 

   Useful websites include:

Canterbury District Health Board stress and anxiety guideline: 

   'Patient' self care information: Looking after yourself after a disaster


   Best guidance (to date) for parents and children: 

   Psychosocial support in disasters: