Our research

Our research on Canterbury

In February 2016 All Right? released its latest survey on Cantabrians’ mental health as the region recovers from the earthquakes.

The research showed there has been some improvement in how people are feeling since the survey was first carried out in 2012:

  • Fewer of us still worry about another big earthquake (42% in this survey compared with 54% in 2012).
  • Fewer of us feel that life is worse now than before the quakes (28% in this survey compared with 38% in 2012).
  • There is a lot of hope and optimism in the region with 79% of those surveyed saying they feel lucky, 91% happy and 73% excited about the future.

It is also clear that the earthquakes and recovery related-stressors are still affecting Cantabrians’ wellbeing, with 61% of those surveyed still grieving for what we’ve lost.

The research also showed that unsettled insurance claims are having a negative impact on how people feel:

  • More than a third of those with an unsettled claim say their living situation is currently getting them down – nearly three times as many as those with settled claims (12%).
  • Half of those with unsettled claims say their life is much worse than before the earthquakes, compared with 26% of those with settled claims.

The research was carried out by Opinions Market Research in November 2015. It consisted of a survey of a representative sample of 800 randomly selected individuals, aged 15 years or older living in Christchurch and the Waimakariri and Selwyn Districts, as well as eight focus groups.

How disasters affect mental health

Natural disasters like the Canterbury earthquakes have a major impact on people's mental health. In fact, international literature suggests that psychosocial recovery after a disaster can take five to ten years.

A key reason for this is that there's often a double blow – the shock and effects of the disaster itself, and then secondary, recovery-related issues such as dealing with broken homes, insurance claims, poor roading and the loss of community facilities.

These secondary issues – sometimes called 'manmade stressors' – can be worse than the disaster itself, particularly if the recovery is long, as they erode wellbeing over time.

This graph shows the phases of psychosocial recovery that are commonly accepted around the world. Of course, the impact of a disaster will vary from person to person. People will progress through the phases at different rates and the phases may even overlap each other.

What has also complicated things in Canterbury is the fact we've had several major earthquakes, which means we've gone up and down this graph several times.

The Heroic Phase

This is the first phase following any disaster – it's a time when adrenalin is running high and there's a massive focus on saving each other and property. There's a lot of activity in this period. Cantabrians did some amazing things during our heroic phase. Some of us saved lives, some treated and supported the wounded, we checked on our neighbours, helped each other gather water and food, and worked together to ensure everyone had shelter and support.

The Honeymoon Phase

This can extend from one week to several months after the disaster. It's a time when hope and optimism are at the forefront. There's a feeling that help will continue to be available and that things will return to normal soon. Typically there is a lot of help and emotional support available at this time and people feel very proud of surviving the event. This definitely took place in Canterbury. Many of us remember the early days post-quake when there was a huge mobilisation of help. Portaloos arrived by the thousands, the Student Army and the Farmy Army came to shovel liquefaction and there were numerous appeals for food, clothing, water, housing and financial help. That was our honeymoon phase.

The Disillusionment Phase

This is the phase where reality sets in. People start to realise how long recovery is going to take and the red tape involved. The length and severity of this phase will depend on the extent of loss and the resources available but it can last several years. 

Several things can happen during this phase: 

  • People can feel overwhelmed. 
  • There is unrelenting stress and fatigue. 
  •  Anger increases along with depression, isolation and loneliness. 
  • There's frustration, grief, hostility and exhaustion. 
  • Financial pressures and relationship issues can emerge. 

Most people will negotiate this phase without the need for long-term psychological help but anxiety and stress can continue for a long period of time. This might result in people feeling tired and exhausted, being more irritable or having trouble concentrating. Some Cantabrians have nicknamed this “quake brain". 

All Right? was launched in February 2013 to help support people through this disillusionment phase.

Reconstruction Phase

Good news! This phase sees people gradually returning to their regular routines and life 'as normal'.