Predicting Psychological Responses after the February 22nd Christchurch Earthquake: Peritraumatic Dissociation, Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms, Anxiety, Depression, and Social Isolation
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Following exposure to trauma, stress reactions are initially adaptive. However, some individuals’ psychological response can become maladaptive with long-lasting impairment to functioning. Most people with initial symptoms of stress recover, and thus it is important to distinguish individuals who are at risk of continuing difficulties so that resources are allocated appropriately. Investigations of predictors of PTSD development have largely focused on relational and combat-related trauma, with very limited research looking at natural disasters. This study assessed the nature and severity of psychological difficulties experienced in 101 people seeking treatment following exposure to a significant earthquake that killed 185 people. Peritraumatic dissociation, posttraumatic stress symptoms, symptoms of anxiety, symptoms of depression, and social isolation were assessed. Descriptive analyses revealed the sample to be a highly impaired group, with particularly high levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Path analysis was used to determine whether the experience of some psychological difficulties predicted experience of others. As hypothesised, peritraumatic dissociation was found to predict posttraumatic stress symptoms and symptoms of anxiety. Posttraumatic stress symptoms then predicted symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression. Depression and anxiety were highly correlated. Contrary to expectations, social isolation was not significantly related to any other psychological variables. These findings justify the provision of psychological support following a natural disaster and suggest the benefit of assessing peritraumatic dissociation and posttraumatic stress symptoms soon after the event to identify people in need of monitoring and intervention.