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Support from spouses softened impact of the earthquakes

Wednesday, August 13, 2014   Posted in: Earthquake By: Administrator With tags: earthquake recovery, mental wellbeing, support, families

University of Canterbury media release: 30th July 2014

Support from partners, husbands, wives and spouses softened the impacts of depression following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, University of Canterbury research has found.

Psychology researchers Dr Roeline Kuijer and PhD student and Fulbright scholar Emma Marshall say their investigations show help from a spouse buffered the negative impact of neuroticism following the earthquakes.

"Support from the spouse was seen as a protective factor that helped people who were more vulnerable to experiencing post-traumatic stress, or those with high levels of neuroticism, cope with the aftermath of the earthquakes," Dr Kuijer says.  

"Post-traumatic stress symptoms are the most frequently studied outcome variable in disaster research and it is important to find out who is most at risk for high levels of stress after a major event. 

"We followed a sample of Christchurch residents from before the earthquakes to 12 months after February 2011 earthquake and found that those participants reporting higher levels of neuroticism and worse pre-earthquake mental health were more at risk for experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms after the earthquakes."

The findings were recently published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. At the recent International Association for Relationship Research Conference in Melbourne, Dr Kuijer presented new findings from the study.

"In line with other research overseas, we found that only a small proportion of our sample reported high levels of post-traumatic stress shortly after the earthquakes. About 14 percent of people reported high post-traumatic stress levels one month after the September 2010 earthquake and 22 percent reported high post-traumatic stress levels three months after the February 2011 earthquake.

"This percentage reduced to just eight percent a year after the February 2011 quake. Although most participants in our sample reported some post-traumatic stress, the percentage of people reporting high levels of stress was low."

"In the current paper, we examined whether supportive interactions with the spouse could buffer the negative impact of neuroticism on post-earthquake adjustment. We argued that support from the spouse could be especially beneficial for people high in neuroticism as they tend to appraise stressors as more negative and experience more difficulty in coping. The reverse was expected to be true for unsupportive or negative interactions."

Dr Kuijer has also carried out research which showed Christchurch women’s eating habits became unhealthier after the earthquakes to cope with stress. Christchurch women who suffered post-traumatic stress after the quakes reported unhealthier eating habits.

Contact Dr Roeline Kuijer at the  Department of Psychology (027 346 4494) or University of Canterbury Media Consultant Kip Brook (0275 030 168) for further information.