My thoughts on the Canterbury Well-being Index release, June 2013

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The latest release of the Canterbury Wellbeing Index provides a snapshot picture across the many dimensions affecting social recovery.

It has been said that there is no health without mental health. Indeed, we need to aim even higher than this. For us to flourish throughout our lives and to positively influence and support others we need to be able to thrive and flourish ourselves. Intervening early and in low-key ways can help to prevent more extensive and expensive interventions later in recovery trajectories. So far in the Canterbury Recovery, this seems to be working well at a population level, but the data suggests that a clear and significant minority continues to struggle with everyday life.

For a significant minority of residents, the higher levels of reported stress have permeated throughout everyday life. For many, this has meant an additional stressor in dealing with their frightened, upset of unsettled children. In an unhappy coincidence of conditions, children may also see their parents struggling to cope with their changed lives. This may change how they see their parent’s capacity to cope. Often, these subtle changes may add up over an extended time to produce changed life trajectories.

The range of supports for people experiencing social and psychological difficulties in adjusting to their changed circumstances appears to be going a long way towards meeting current identified needs. This includes, the 0800 helpline, counselling services, the Earthquake Support Coordination Service, extended GP consultations and Canterbury DHB services, as well as a range of supports available through non-government sources such as New Zealand Red Cross. However, there remains the possibility that there are a significant number of people who are struggling who we do not know about, or those who find it challenging to ask for help. As we move through the recovery we will need to keep a careful watch over people’s needs and the resources they may need to meet them. The CWI is a useful tool in helping us to do that.

From this CWI social recovery data release, it seems likely that we are in the midst of a critical period. While some people in the region are able to cope, and indeed are doing well, other require more support. It is important to stress that feeling like you need help is not a sign of weakness; coming forward for help often takes strength and courage.

This support could to help them to cope with the impacts of secondary stressors such as housing quality and availability, insurance transactions, and rebuilding administration and practical arrangements. More broadly, systemic interventions to tackle some of the root causes of these secondary stressors would go a long way towards reducing the extent of their community impacts. There may also be room to extend or refine how support services are able to help those who have delayed coming forward for assistance until recently, or who are continuing to struggle on their own.

Choices exerted by individuals and the communities they are part of, and the degree to which they are expressed, heard and acted upon become even more crucial as the recovery progresses. This empowerment is a multidimensional social process by which individuals and groups gain better understanding and influence over their own lives. As a result, they are able to regain a sense of control over their own social environment to improve their wellbeing and life circumstances. A lack of agency and power could hinder this key component of recovery.

In situations like the Canterbury recovery, the temptation is to think of resilience as the degree to which communities and individuals can adapt and change. The reality is far more complex than this. As well as adaptive capacity, absorptive coping capacity seems important too. This is the degree to which individuals and households can employ strategies to help them keep going in the face of shocks on their livelihoods and basic needs. It is this persistence, and holding on to traditions and valued ways of life that perhaps underpins people’s marked pride in their ability to cope under difficult circumstances. It also perhaps suggests that challenges to changing from well-tried ways of doing things may well be fiercely resisted.

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