Getting control back after a major earthquake

Emotional release or problem solving: How your gender can determine what coping mechanisms are used after a major earthquake.

Earthquake 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Earthquake 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Although destructive earthquakes can affect entire populations, researchers in China have found that there is a clear heightened need for psychological support in the wake of such trauma among girls, senior students and those deemed high-risk adolescents.
In 2008 the Wenchuan earthquake in China, measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale, caused a death toll of nearly 70,000, of which more than 5,000 were teenagers and children. Three months after the earthquake, researchers led by the West China School of Nursing and West China Hospital at Sichuan University, focused on the five most damaged secondary schools surveying nearly 2,000 people aged between 12-20 years.
“Earthquakes usually strike suddenly, without warning, affecting large populations and leaving injury, death and destruction in their wake” says author Dr Weiging Zhang. “Some survivors develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a severe and complex disorder characterized by persistent problems, including intrusive memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and a heightened emotional state.”
Observations by the research team found some of the biggest differences, apparent among the age groups and genders, were problems with sleeping, outbursts of anger, irritability and feelings of being constantly on guard with an inability to concentrate properly. After major earthquakes it was found that senior students and teenage girls suffered the highest levels of PTSD. The study further revealed that girls focused more on an emotional release, whilst boys showed their tendency to cope by using problem solving.
Of those surveyed, half of the students had group or individual counseling while three-quarters received material support. This lead to the recommendation that after such an earthquake it is vitally important that those affected receive social support, which should be made available as quickly as possible after the event.
Dr Zhang says “Our research underlines the importance of making sure that adolescents receive the psychological support they need to rebuild their lives, as well as the practical resources they and their families need to rebuild their homes and communities”. Overall survivors should always be encouraged to use effective coping skills in order to give them back a sense of control.