Prospective Predictors of Short-Term Adjustment After the Canterbury Earthquakes: Personality and Depression

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Abstract

The present study examined the relationship between pretrauma variables (neuroticism, optimism, self-control, and pretrauma depression) and postearthquake adjustment (posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, sense of normality) 1 month and 3 months after 2 major earthquakes in Canterbury, New Zealand. Earthquake related hassles were examined as a potential mediator. Participants completed questionnaires preearthquakes (T1–T3), and again 1 month (T4; N = 185) and 3 months (T5; N = 156) postearthquakes. Controlling for perceived life threat and objective trauma severity, higher levels of neuroticism and pretrauma depression, and lower levels of self-control and optimism, were significantly associated with higher levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms after both earthquakes. Neuroticism, pretrauma depression, and self-control, but not optimism, were also associated with an increase in PTSD symptoms over time. All 3 personality variables were associated with sense of normality after the 2011 earthquake, again controlling for perceived life threat and objective trauma severity. However, when the relative contribution of the pretrauma factors was examined (i.e., all pretrauma factors were entered into the analyses simultaneously rather than individually), optimism ceased to be a significant predictor in all cases. Neuroticism emerged as a robust independent predictor of postearthquake adjustment. Pretrauma depressive symptoms and dispositional self-control were both independent predictors of PTSD symptoms after both earthquakes. Earthquake related hassles mediated the relationship between neuroticism and post-2011 PTSD symptoms, changes in PTSD symptoms over time, and sense of normality.

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