Prime Minister John Key gives good counsel

I think Prime Minister John Key made some very helpful statements yesterday regarding how some people are reacting to the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks and how they might get help. Here is some of the quote:

Prime Minister John Key is calling on those still residing in Canterbury to consider seeking counselling to deal with the stress of the earthquake and continuing aftershocks.

Speaking to RadioLIVE’s Marcus Lush this morning Mr Key said that the “compounding increase in anxiety that is taking place because of the aftershocks” only became clear to him upon visiting the region to assess the fallout of Saturday’s quake.

“People are living in slightly damaged houses, so they’re thinking ‘I’m living in a damaged structure, I’m fearful of another earthquake’ and of course they’re getting really upset, and that’s really one of the reasons why we’re asking people to reach out and get some counselling,” said Mr Key.

Do you notice how he doesn’t talk about trauma?

He talks about anxiety and getting really upset.

Mr Key is getting good advice (or he knows this himself, possibly).

Talking about trauma is not very helpful, and it is not true for the majority of people either. In this post, I point out how research predicts that most people who are living through this unfolding event will be OK. They may have some ups and downs and some wobbles along the way, the dominant story is resilience for the majority, particularly if they have supportive friends, families, clubs , societies, church groups, and voluntary or government-sponsored groups standing strong beside them. Trauma symptoms affect the minority but we of course need to ensure that we can identify and help these people early on in the piece.

Mr Key gets this.

Talking about trauma turns people off from looking for help. However, anxiety and uncertainty will be all too common. This is just a normal reaction to a highly unusual and sometimes frightening set of events. Getting good information about why people are feeling, thinking and behaving like they are, that they are not alone in experiencing this, and that there are concrete things that can be done, along with caring, compassionate people (sometime professionals) around to help them work through what they need to do – this is what Mr Key is getting at.

People to hear their story, when they’re ready.

At their own pace.

Those people are around – you might already know them.

Just don’t let anyone rush you.


Supporting children through the earthquake and aftershocks

The effects of emergency threat on children often worry parents and adults. However, children take their lead from how they see adults managing. They are often just as able to cope with the crisis as adults, although they do it in their own way. It is important to trust your children’s common sense, knowledge and emotional strength and your own knowledge of them. They need you to have faith in them. The majority of people (children included) behave sensibly and reasonably in a crisis, given their understanding of the situation and their knowledge. Therefore equip them with accurate factual information about the threat and give them accurate advice about what to do. Children show their courage by what they do, even if they express fear. If they are afraid; they need the chance to express it and for you to support and encourage them without losing confidence in their ability to cope. Children have untapped strength and are very resilient; with adult support they recover well from emergency stress.

Helping children under threat

  • Remain calm; it may be very difficult but try to avoid displaying unnecessary distress.
  • Be real, explain what adults are feeling and doing – they usually already can see for themselves.
  • Keep updating them and explaining what is happening in simple words so they can understand it.
  • Explain what you are doing to keep them safe, show how your knowledge helps meet the threat.
  • Get them to talk about what they think might happen and correct any wrong ideas.
  • Give them things to do to help however you can so they feel useful, even if just to keep watch.
  • Reassure them that they are brave, will manage well and you are confident in them. Remind them that many people are trying to help and will come when they can.
  • Show affection and comfort them when they are upset, then encourage them to meet the threat.

There is also some great information here from the Ministry of Education, and another great information sheet that has been put together by the employee assistance people at Telecom NZ.

Psychosocial support resources available – videos and factsheets here

You can find many of the factsheets I prepared for the Ministry of Health and the cross-government National Welfare Recovery Group here.

You will also find a series of videos – but don’t worry, if you don’t have the time or the bandwidth to watch them, I’ll be discussing some of the content here often.

Check back to see what is new.

Psychosocial support after the Canterbury quake – Advice blog

In the hours, days and weeks ahead you may come across instances where people are worried, anxious, frightened, or just uncertain about their experiences and futures. You may be feeling like this yourself. Some will have experienced damage to their property which means that they cannot live where they normally live. Others may have experienced injury – whether to themselves, or their loved ones. And this injury could be physical or non-physical, visible or non-visible. What we know from the research is that most people will be ok, especially if they have their usual resources to draw upon – especially their social networks and experience with coping with adversity successfully before in their lives. Others will need more support.

This site provides information to help you to help yourself and others.

This blog started after doing some work over the first couple of days after the initial earthquake, having been quoted in a NZ Herald article here on helping children after the event (also also in the Star Canterbury and another article here, and here), and a Radio NZ National radio interview on Nine to Noon with Kathryn Ryan too. I also made a post on Nigel Latta’s Facebook page after being prodded by a friend on looking after children after the earthquake.

As a result of the work that I have done to develop the NZ Government’s psychosocial support response in emergency events, I’ve been inspired to set up this new blog on support after the quake – please check in regularly for bite-sized advice and tips to help you recognise some of the new and unsettling thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you and others around you might be seeing or going through, and how to help yourself and others.

I’m happy for you to share this information with whoever you think might find it useful. Just check with me through the comments function if it will be used for press or media purposes. Always happy to receive feedback too. Thanks.