Researchers who conducted a major study to examine the effects of the Canterbury earthquakes on school leavers have been left scratching their heads after they “unexpectedly” found no negative trends.

The absence of negative effects on teenagers leaving high school when the 2010 and 2011 quake sequence struck has been put down to a word that many politicians now infamously associate with Cantabrians: “resilient”.

There has been widespread research on the negative effects of natural disasters on mental health, including the increased rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, four researchers from the department of psychological medicine at the University of Otago said little research has to date been done into how disasters affect school leavers – at a time of increasing independence, often away from family.

The 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence claimed 182 lives and injured thousands.

It also caused widespread damage to Christchurch,including to many schools – several of which had to move students to less-damaged schools for many months.

The researchers delved into four areas where they wanted to check the effects of the quakes on school leavers, including school disengagement, academic failure, school rolls, and earthquake impaired derived grades.

But after analysing the data, their findings concluded that the “adolescent period of school leaving has largely been unaffected” by the Canterbury quakes.

Scrutinising the level of school disengagement in four “high-impact zones” – Christchurch Central, Christchurch East, Port Hills and Waimakariri – found “no trends that could be attributed to the onset of the earthquake sequence”.

Nor were there any “observable effects” on academic failure that could be blamed onthe quakes.

School rolls were down in areas worst hit by quake damage, but that information matched data already produced by Statistics New Zealand.

The extent of earthquake-impaired derived grades could not be measured, the researchers found.

Factors for the lack of negative effects could have included “resilience being the norm when a population is exposed to a disaster, with detrimental effects only being found in for [sic] a minority of the population coupled with the possibility that post-traumatic growth improves the mental health of some”.

It also suggested that health-promoting initiatives put in place by government agencies in the disaster’s aftermath helped with “community cohesiveness” and in managing stress.

“It may also be that higher levels of stress as a result of the earthquakes increased attention and focus on education by students, teachers, and schools to compensate for any detrimental effects,” the research paper concluded.

The findings will be published online in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health today.




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