Monday, May 6, 2013

Quake stress taking bigger toll on girls

An interesting article from The DomPost about the impacts of earthquakes on girls. A sobering reminder of the impact of natural disasters. The findings are curious and important, we obviously need to understand a lot more about why a natural disaster would have a bigger impact on girls than boys.

GIRLS are three times more likely to be affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than boys in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, research has found.

Probation officer Tim Heetkamp collected data from 570 teenagers at six Christchurch schools as part of his master’s degree in psychology at Massey University. The data showed some young adults still could not sleep without a light on more than two years after the February 2011 earthquake and that parents continued to struggle with teenagers suffering from PTSD, depression, insomnia and anger.

PTSD causes flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the earthquakes. ‘‘There has been some research on why females have a higher instance of PTSD than males,’’ Mr Heetkamp said. ‘‘It’s been suggested that [girls have] a more innate predisposition.’’

He also found that the level of fear teenagers experienced during the quakes was closely related to the severity of their PTSD symptoms. Girls reported experiencing higher levels of fear than boys. When it came to perceptions of trauma, girls also fared worse. More girls reported that they knew somebody who had been killed in the quake and significantly more girls said a family member had been injured.

‘‘This could be explained by girls having larger and stronger social networks. They just know more people and have a higher sensitivity to the pain of others,’’ Mr Heetkamp said.

One mother said her daughter suffered depression and her son was still ‘‘incredibly angry’’ two years on from the February 2011 quake. They lost a family friend in the PGC building and still live in their badly-damaged red-zone home.

Her son, now 22, struggles to sleep. ‘‘He still, to this day, has sleeping issues and cannot sleep without a light on. To watch my son, who is now a man, go through that, is just horrific.’’

Her daughter, now 17, was home sick from school when the quake struck. ‘‘She was absolutely petrified.’’

She developed depression and sought counselling, which had helped. However, her son refused professional help.

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