DEALING WITH DISASTER: Research into people’s coping mechanisms had surprising results.
DEALING WITH DISASTER: Research into people’s coping mechanisms had surprising results. USAR

Child trafficking research may hold key to disaster recovery

A SUNSHINE Coast university student hopes her research will help improve psychological intervention programs for people traumatised by natural disasters.

Maroochydore's Chelle Whitburn, 29, recently finished her Bachelor of Social Science (psychology) honours project at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

She analysed survey responses from 835 people as part of a study involving the University of Canterbury's Associate Professor Janet Carter and USC lecturer in clinical psychology Lee Kannis.

Most of the survey participants had been through the 2011 Christchurch earthquake or the earlier Queensland floods.

"I identified different types of coping styles that people used after a traumatic event, and found how these styles correlated to their resulting mental health outcomes," Ms Whitburn said.

People who used problem-solving and help-seeking coping methods had significantly better mental health outcomes than those who used an avoidant coping style, which led to poor mental health.

Ms Whitburn's supervisor, USC lecturer in psychology Rachael Sharman, said the research was surprising in its revelation that people's mental health after a natural disaster was not influenced by any previous traumas experienced.

Ms Whitburn said she had hypothesised that people who had experienced unrelated trauma or multiple traumas, such as childhood abuse, would have higher levels of depression, anxiety or stress after a natural disaster.

"But we found the only factors that had a significant correlation to mental health outcomes after the disaster were individual coping styles," she said.

"This is encouraging because it means people can seek psychological assistance following any trauma to learn positive coping techniques that will likely improve their long-term mental health.

"It also has implications for the development of psychological interventions to assist people following the experience of trauma."

Ms Whitburn is studying a PhD on the prevalence of child trafficking in Australia in order to improve psychological therapies for the children involved.