Quakes impact on substance use and mental health quantified

July 17, 2014 by Kim Thomas
Aerial photo of the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of Los Angeles. Credit: Wikipedia.

(Medical Xpress)—Cantabrians who experienced serious quake-related adversity are twice as likely to be addicted to smoking and 40 per cent more likely to have mental health conditions such as major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than people who did not experience the earthquakes, new research shows.

However for Cantabrians who experienced minimal trauma, loss or ongoing disruption associated with the quakes, the was less strong.

This information is contained in a paper by University of Otago, Christchurch, researchers, published in the latest edition of the prestigious JAMA Psychiatry Journal.

The researchers are in a unique position to gather facts on the psychological impact of quakes. For more than 30 years Professor David Fergusson and his Christchurch Health and Development Study colleagues have collected in-depth data on the mental health of a group of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury during 1977. By chance, just over half of were in Canterbury for the majority of the earthquakes.

The team found:

  • Cantabrians who experienced serious adversity, both through earthquake events and following consequences, were 40 per cent more likely than those living outside the region to have at least one of several kinds of disorder including: , or anxiety disorder.
  • Rates of clinically significant nicotine dependence were 1.9 times higher in the group of people most affected by earthquakes compared to those not affected by quakes.
  • Rates of drinking and illicit drug taking did not increase significantly in those adversely affected by earthquakes.
  • Professor Fergusson says: "These findings are likely to apply to other areas affected by major disasters and highlight the need to provide increased support to those most severely affected by these disasters. It is also clear, however, that the majority of those facing disasters are resilient and do not develop problems."

Professor Fergusson says it appears the psychological impact of the quakes could have been worse if community spirit were not so strong.

"A key consideration (in studying the impact of Canterbury quakes) is the well-organised and responsive way in which the Canterbury community responded to these disasters with widespread support for those families affected by the disasters. This is likely to have acted as a protective factor in mitigating the consequence for those with high levels of exposure to earthquake-related adversity.''

The findings of Professor Fergusson's study relate to those aged in their early 30s (study participants) and are less informative for older or younger people.

Explore further: Smoking and natural disasters: Christchurch residents increase tobacco consumption post-earthquake

More information: Fergusson DM, Horwood L, Boden JM, Mulder RT. "Impact of a Major Disaster on the Mental Health of a Well-Studied Cohort." JAMA Psychiatry. Published online July 16, 2014. DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.652.

Related Stories

Smoking and natural disasters: Christchurch residents increase tobacco consumption post-earthquake

September 4, 2012
The prevalence of smoking in Christchurch, New Zealand, increased following the 2010 earthquake, according to a new study.

Human cognitive performance suffers following natural disasters, researchers find

February 10, 2012
Not surprisingly, victims of a natural disaster can experience stress and anxiety, but a new study indicates that it might also cause them to make more errors - some serious - in their daily lives. In their upcoming Human ...

Abuse jeopardizes new mothers' mental health

April 28, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Ashley Pritchard, a Simon Fraser University doctoral student, is among four authors of a new research paper calling for closer monitoring of new mothers for mental health problems in light of their findings.

Recommended for you

Children with fragile X syndrome have a bias toward threatening emotion

August 23, 2017
Anxiety occurs at high rates in children with fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common form of inherited intellectual disability. Children with co-occurring anxiety tend to fare worse, but it can be hard to identify in infants. ...

So-called "bright girl effect" does not last into adulthood

August 23, 2017
The notion that young females limit their own progress based on what they believe about their intelligence—called the "bright girl effect"—does not persist into adulthood, according to new research from Case Western Reserve ...

Like adults, children show bias in attributing mental states to others

August 22, 2017
Young children are more likely to attribute mental states to characters that belong to the same group as them relative to characters that belong to an outside group, according to findings published in Psychological Science, ...

High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain's reward system

August 22, 2017
Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain's frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task ...

Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience

August 22, 2017
Many people report positive health effects from practicing yoga and meditation, and experience both mental and physical benefits from these practices. However, we still have much to learn about how exactly these practices ...

Wealth disparity and family income impact the brain development of female youth

August 22, 2017
Female teenagers living in neighbourhoods with wide salary gaps and a low-income household show changes to their brain maturation that could indicate a higher risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, suggests a recently ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.