Christchurch earthquake: Counselling workload surges

By Nicholas Jones

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The free counselling provider Lifeline Aotearoa is experiencing a surge in demand as the mental strain from the Christchurch earthquake begins to show.

Average call rates to the organisation's 24/7 phone line have increased by 35 per cent since the earthquake, and have at times been 160 per cent above normal.

Chief executive Jo Denvir said demand would continue to grow and more than 200 members of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors had responded to a request for additional volunteers on the phone lines, which had been doubled.

Lifeline's 24/7 phone line normally functioned with about 180 volunteers.

"Once the initial crisis is over and I guess the adrenaline has worn off and the reality starts to set in, that's when we expect to get quite a number of calls in the coming months."

Ms Denvir said those calls would revolve around longer-term problems like job insecurity, financial difficulties, relationship breakdowns and domestic abuse.

The earthquake has affected demand for Lifeline's services like no other event since the organisation's formation in 1965, she said.

The Christchurch Lifeline offices have been off-limits since the earthquake, putting more pressure on the Auckland call centre.

Queensland Lifeline had reported no drop-off in callers since the state's floods in late December and January. Their experience suggested calls would peak a few months after the earthquake.

"In Queensland I guess it's the same - they still haven't repaired their houses, and generally they're finding insurance doesn't pay the full amount, so there's the stress of that."

The effect in Christchurch was likely to be worse because of the fear of further aftershocks and a greater uncertainty about employment, she said.

Lifeline had received calls from people who felt besieged after extensive media coverage of the Christchurch earthquake switched to the devastation wrecked by the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

"There are a lot of people who are now afraid that the end is coming, that these are signs. People that have been unwell over a period of their life are becoming more unwell."

Paying for Lifeline's 0800 number, extra training and supervision costs has meant the organisation faces a funding shortfall.

- NZ Herald

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