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Fragile Psyches

In the long-term aftermath of a disaster, shattered cities may be easier to rebuild than damaged psyches, according to a Massey University study looking into the psychological consequences of catastrophe.

Dr Lesley Frederikson and her fellow researchers are currently investigating several aspects of "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder" amongst people who have suffered trauma of various kinds -- combat veterans, flood victims, emergency relief workers and people suffering severe burns.

"PTSD is a crippling psychological response to extreme trauma which makes it difficult for people to function at anything near a normal level," says Frederikson. "Victims are continually haunted by re-experiencing the event and can become isolated and emotionally numb, avoiding contact with other people and with reminders of the event."

She suggests that early psychological intervention to help victims cope with their overwhelming personal distress may be just as much a necessity as the provision of food, medicines and shelter after a disaster.

"Japan's recent devastating earthquake and the massive flooding of the Mississippi river basin remind us that disasters strike unexpectedly and indiscriminately, leaving many distressed people in their wake," she says. "Considering New Zealand's position on the junction of the continental plates and the ever-increasing likelihood of cyclone weather patterns, it really is a matter of being prepared."