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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fear election year will overload Cantabrians

Fear election year will overload Cantabrians

Last updated 09:44 11/05/2011
Election-year issues could become a flashpoint for frustrated Cantabrians struggling with the emotional fallout from two major earthquakes, the Government's chief science adviser says.

Sir Peter Gluckman fears the combative nature of an election campaign this year will fuel argument and disillusionment among emotionally exhausted Canterbury residents.

It might also aggravate tensions between those pushing to get on with an immediate recovery and those wanting a more cautious approach, and between local and national interests, he said.

Gluckman told a Christchurch forum yesterday that the "recovery and rehabilitation" phase of emotional response to the September 4 and February 22 quakes could last as long as a year, encompassing the November general election.

"We are going to have to watch these potentials for aggravation over the coming months," he said.

"I'm just scared that the emotions could be aggravated by that, but if we work closely and honestly together, we can actually ameliorate that to a large extent."

He was optimistic that most Cantabrians would "get through" emotionally, but between 5 and 10 per cent of the population could need professional help. Disaster experts often referred to four emotional phases after a disaster, he said. The transition from each phase was rarely smooth.

An initial heroic phase, in which people helped without counting the cost, was followed by a honeymoon phase in which people saw the help arriving and felt the situation would improve.

The current third phase, "somewhat awkwardly and unhelpfully termed the disillusionment phase", saw people realise how long recovery would take and become angry and frustrated.

Most people would need between four and 12 months to work though this "recovery and rehabilitation" phase.

People finally returned to a new equilibrium, but that was a long-term process in which things never returned to exactly how they were before, he said.

"The good news is that most people are resilient. Most people will get through this," he said.

About five to 10 per cent would come out with residual psychological needs that had to be supported, what some people would call post- traumatic stress disorder.

"People are doing what they can to get life back to normal, getting the cafes open, the sporting clubs going, the pubs open," he said.

"These things are far more important than people realise."

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