World-first study to examine ongoing mental impacts of deadly Christchurch earthquake

A decade on from the Christchurch earthquake, many residents are still suffering psychologically. 

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In a world first, Canterbury researchers will look at the ongoing mental impacts of the quakes. Source: 1 NEWS

When the powerful quake rocked the city in February 2011, 185 people were killed and Christchurch was forever changed. 

Now work is about to start to better understand how to help people after one of the country's deadliest natural disasters.

Christchurch resident Jo Houghton continues to relive the earthquake.  

"There are things, my heart races when I hear breaking glass, I might look alright but yeah, inside it's bang, bang, bang," she told 1 NEWS.

She was alone in her Cashmere home at the time, in the bathroom. It was destroyed in the quake and years of stress followed.

"The feeling of not being in control anymore was really scary, nothing really prepares you for it," she says.

Source: 1 NEWS

Houghton could be one of the many Cantabrians thought to be suffering from "Quake Brain", the ongoing cognitive and psychological effects of earthquakes.

"Things like forgetting things more easily or forgetting appointments, not remembering people's names, feeling a bit more distracted," says Dr Katie Douglas from the University of Otago's department of psychological medicine.

The Canterbury Medical Research Foundation has just announced more than $200,000 worth of funding for a new study into the condition.

It's one of the first in the world that will look at the ongoing mental impacts of quakes.

"We're seeing if we can get a really good understanding of what it is that this quake brain is, and in the longer term whether we can develop widely accessible treatment options for the population," Douglas says.

There'll be 200 participants in their mid-40s, but there's interest in expanding it to include young Cantabrians.

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Child and family psychologist Linde-Marie Amersfoort says they've seen an increase in need for counselling, including with children accessing mental health services.

"It is concerning because we don't want children to be suffering from these kinds of mental health issues," she says.

"It's not surprising that our brain would try and suppress some of the difficulties, especially traumatic difficulties, that we might have experienced during the quakes."

In the meantime it's hoped the study will give some Cantabrians the help they desperately need. 

This is part of a 1 NEWS series marking a decade since the deadly Christchurch earthquake.