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Prepare for the mental health impacts of a disaster

This can include:

  • Thinking about how you or others might generally respond to high stress situations
  • Knowing the early warning signs that tell you that you or others around you are not coping
  • Knowing strategies that can help with managing your stress levels and wellbeing
  • Thinking in advance about decisions that you might need to make and having a plan to assist in making decisions if a disaster happens
  • Knowing what support services are available and how (and when) to access them
  • Knowing the potential risks for disasters occurring in the local area (such as bushfires, floods, extreme heat, industrial incidents) and contact the local council for information on local emergency management plans
  • Attending local community forums that focus on preparing, responding and recovering from disasters
  • Connecting with others in the local community and sharing plans with support networks to keep each other in the loop.

Resources to help you prepare

Supporting people who are more at risk

We are all more at risk at different points in our lives and we each have characteristics that help us to bounce back in times of crisis. Our circumstances are always changing and this means how we prepare for, cope and recover from disasters can also change from time to time.

Below is information about groups of people within the community who may be more at risk or who need extra support in some circumstances.

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Children and young people exposed to disasters will react in different ways. Some will return to their usual functioning and settle back into routines within a few weeks, however, some may need extra support to cope.

It is important to understand that children and young people’s response to a disaster or traumatic event can be very different to adults. The impact of the traumatic event and the length of time it takes to recover will be different for each person.

The impact of a traumatic event and the length of time it takes to recover will be different for every child and depends on many different factors, including:

  • The nature of the traumatic event
  • Individual characteristics of the child such as their age, developmental stage and temperament 
  • Whether there has been significant disruption to the child’s life, or whether the child has been able to return to their usual routine
  • The impact that the event has had on the child’s main support systems and how those around them are coping

Common reactions to a traumatic event may include

  • Changes in their play, drawing, dreams or conversation 
  • Regressive behaviour – behaving younger than they normally do 
  • Difficulty managing big emotions
  • Wanting to stay close to a parent or caregiver
  • Fear and worry about the safety of themselves and others, including pets
  • Fear of separation from family members
  • Clinging to parents, siblings, or teachers
  • Trouble concentrating or paying attention
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Aggression or irritability toward parents, siblings, or friends
  • Increase in physical complaints, such as headaches and stomach-aches
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits
  • Lack of interest in usual activities
  • Increase in teens' risky behaviours, such as drinking alcohol, using substances, harming themselves, or engaging in activities that compromise their safety.

Help for children and young people

Helpful strategies

  • Calmly provide factual information about the incident and plans for ensuring their safety
  • Encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings
  • Assure children and young people that it is normal to feel sad and upset
  • Keep in mind that it is common for children and young people to show regressive behaviour, particularly in younger children (for example thumb-sucking and bed-wetting)
  • Encourage parents or caregivers to actively involve children in recovery processes by giving them specific chores to help them feel they are helping to restore family life
  • Limit exposure to media coverage of the incident including on television, social media, radio, and in the newspaper
  • Encourage parents to access supports to assist in their own recovery if needed
  • During periods of disruption and change, children can feel more secure with structure and routine. As much as possible, maintain normal routines such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes.

Referral pathways

Child and Adolescent Mental health Services (CAMHS)

For support, information and referral to other services if there are concerns about the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. 

Telephone: (08) 8161 7198
Website: www.wch.sa.gov.au

Helpful resources

Resources to help you prepare

Whilst older people may be considered more at risk during disasters, they also have many strengths that help them to prepare, cope, and help others during times of crisis, including:

  • Knowledge and wisdom
  • Coping skills
  • Self-efficacy
  • Optimism
  • Previous experience
  • Resourcefulness
  • Community connections.

Nonetheless, it should also be noted that there are some factors that may increase older people’s risk in disasters, including:

  • Health conditions including chronic illness or other medical needs, physical mobility, vision and hearing impairment
  • Community access – does the person need support to get from A to B? (including evacuation)
  • Potential for low literacy levels
  • Language barriers among some older migrant populations, which can impact on access to information and support
  • Potential loss of confidence linked with declining health and/or independence
  • Social and/or physical isolation
  • Potential for being in a caring role for others with higher support needs.

Support for older people

Things to keep in mind

  • Ask what they have learned from their experiences through life, what served them well in previous emergency events, and anything they feel would be helpful for themselves or the community
  • Encourage older people to discuss their plans and support needs with family and friends, and with organisations they may already receiving support from
  • Link with other agencies that may be involved in supporting older people, including: Home Care Package providers, Meals on Wheels, Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) and Red Cross.

Resources to help you prepare

Aboriginal people’s views of mental health and social and emotional wellbeing are very different to those of non-Aboriginal people. This means the way that Aboriginal people experience and recover from disasters can be very different.

Referral pathways

National Indigenous Critical Response Service

The National Indigenous Critical Response Service has been funded by the Commonwealth Government to:

  • Provide a critical response to support individuals, families and communities affected by traumatic events (including suicide) that is culturally responsive to their needs
  • Strengthen community capacity and resilience where there have been high levels of trauma
  • Better understand and respond to critical incidents and strengthen service collaboration
  • Provide advocacy on behalf of families to ensure they are able to access the supports they need

Critical Response Support Advocate call 1800 805 801
The 1800 805 801 number is available 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Aboriginal Health Services

Referrals for Social and Emotional Wellbeing support provided by Aboriginal Health Services can be made by arranging an appointment with the health clinic. Contact the relevant Aboriginal Health Service for more information.

Helpful resources

Resources to help you prepare

Many people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds demonstrate great resilience, often having a range of experiences and skills in dealing with emergencies. They may also have some vulnerabilities which impact on their ability to prepare, copy and recover from disasters, including:

  • Access to information on relief and recovery arrangements may be limited due to language and/or cultural differences
  • Access to support services may be limited by language and/or cultural differences
  • People who have recently arrived in Australia may be living in an unfamiliar environment and be unaware of risks in the area such as flooding or bushfires
  • Previous trauma experiences
  • Potential separations from family, friends, community leaders or other support networks they would normally connect with.

Communication is an important part of keeping communities connected and informed. Making sure that people with diverse language and cultural needs have access to information and supports can help to reduce risks and help with recovery.

Gender

Gender issues are known to compound the effects that disasters have on people. Increased awareness of gender and disaster will improve the health and wellbeing of women and men affected by disaster across Australia.

More information

Disability

Being aware of the strengths and support needs of people with disabilities in the community is an important part of being prepared, coping, and recovering from a disaster.

People with physical, psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities may be more at risk during and after disasters due to:

  • Physical access barriers – such as steps or narrow walkways which limit or prevent access to buildings, facilities and services. Access to necessary equipment, including difficulties re-charging batteries for electric wheelchairs or other equipment during power outages
  • Negative beliefs about the capacity of people with a disability, potentially limiting people’s involvement in disaster planning and access to information and services
  • Communication barriers – information and resources not being available in accessible formats such as Braille, sign language, pictures or simple language. Access to adaptive devices, including difficulties re-charging electronic communication devices during power outages
  • If people with a disability need support from others (including services) to help with evacuating or accessing resources in the community and those services themselves are impacted by the disaster.

More information

Resources to help you prepare

Gender issues are known to compound the effects that disasters have on people. Increased awareness of gender and disaster will improve the health and wellbeing of women and men affected by disaster across Australia.

For more information visit the Gender and Disaster website

Being aware of the strengths and support needs of people with disabilities in the community is an important part of being prepared, coping, and recovering from a disaster.

People with physical, psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities may be more at risk during and after disasters due to:

  • Physical access barriers – such as steps or narrow walkways which limit or prevent access to buildings, facilities and services. Access to necessary equipment, including difficulties re-charging batteries for electric wheelchairs or other equipment during power outages
  • Negative beliefs about the capacity of people with a disability, potentially limiting people’s involvement in disaster planning and access to information and services
  • Communication barriers – information and resources not being available in accessible formats such as Braille, sign language, pictures or simple language. Access to adaptive devices, including difficulties re-charging electronic communication devices during power outages
  • If people with a disability need support from others (including services) to help with evacuating or accessing resources in the community and those services themselves are impacted by the disaster

More information

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