It’s been almost 18 months since the upper South Island was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. For many people living in affected communities, unresolved damage to their their homes is a daily reminder of the disaster.

In Marlborough, the district council has seen an influx of building consents for repairs to damaged homes. The council’s Building Control Group Manager Bill East says the team has been extremely busy as they try to juggle earthquake repairs with the council’s regular workload.

“It was certainly a very stressful time for people immediately after the earthquake. The team’s trying to deal with this one-off event with all the damage and upset south of Seddon and meanwhile, back here, the demands of a normal working day.”

The stresses of rebuilding and repairing, combined with other factors such as road closures, mean that people in affected communities can often feel frustrated and anxious. To better support these people, Bill and his colleague Brendon Robertson completed Red Cross’ Psychological First Aid Training last year.

The training provides an insight into people’s behaviour as they cope with emergencies and stressful situations and teaches appropriate ways to support and work with them. Brendon says this has been incredibly useful as the council team works to support the community through the rebuilds and repairs.

“It’s 18 months now since the earthquake occurred," Brendon says. "Through the course, we learned that the effects of an earthquake are long-lasting and therefore some of our clients today are still suffering psychological effects from the earthquake.”

“There are some quite specific issues with this recovery that this training has helped us understand too,” Bill adds.

“These people have had to stay on in their damaged properties because, in a lot of cases, they’re rural; their business is where they live. These people are now getting ready to go into their second winter and their houses are still damaged. So you can imagine that, mentally, they’re not going to be in the best place. They’ve struggled now for 18 months. We have to support them and show that we understand what they’re going through.”

Both men were deployed to Christchurch after the 2010-2011 earthquakes to help with the building inspections. Having Psychological First Aid Training before heading down to Christchurch would have been extremely valuable, Brendon says.

“We dealt with structural issues but we didn’t know how to deal with people. It put barriers in our way of helping them because we didn’t know. Understanding people’s psychological issues — understanding that a little bit — helps.

“It’s having that understanding of what they’re going through and understanding that underlying issues and anxieties can make things a lot worse.”

Aside from working with people still recovering from the earthquake, the two believe the Psychological First Aid Training will help in their everyday business.

Building a house can be very stressful, especially for people who have never been involved in the process before, Bill says.

“It’s very easy for us because we deal with the Building Act and the Building Code every day — it’s our bread and butter. But to the clients, it’s a whole new ball game. It's very confusing and very frustrating, and we understand that. And the training gives us the ability to understand that better.”

Red Cross offers Psychological First Aid Training throughout New Zealand. Find out more about the training and how to book a course for your business or organisation.