Mental health tsunami predicted following devastating floods

If the catastrophic bushfires and life-changing Covid-19 pandemic weren’t enough, health experts warn that this coupled now with the recent devastating floods across NSW and south-east Queensland will bring a tsunami of mental health needs as people begin to face the ruin of the floods.

The high-stress events that have led to mass evacuations, loss of business and homes, separation from community, school closures and dwindling supplies in some flood-ravaged towns are significant and affect tens of thousands of people.

This together with the looming Federal Government cut to Medicare rebates for telehealth psychology services is expected to have significant impacts, according to health experts.

“We are seeing unprecedented scenes of disaster across NSW and the mental health effects are very real for the scores of people cut off from their homes, livelihoods and community,” says Australian Clinical Psychology Association President, Professor Caroline Hunt.

“Whether you are drastically impacted and among the potential 30,000 evacuees or simply affected by the ongoing, devastating coverage, it is important to reach out for help and support as needed from a trusted mental health professional.

“The mental health fallout from the floods is going to be felt for months and maybe years to come.

“Right now, the focus is on getting everyone to safety but there is a long road ahead for those individuals and communities who need to rebuild,” says Professor Hunt.

Professor Hunt warns that people in flood-affected areas may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Panic,
  • Distress,
  • General pre-occupation with events,
  • Difficulty sleeping,
  • Feeling tense,
  • Having an overwhelming sense of dread.

According to Professor Hunt, these are all signs someone may need mental health support.

“The majority of people will start to feel better as the situation calms but if these feelings of panic, stress and hyper-vigilance continue once the crisis has passed then that’s a clear sign to seek help,” says Professor Hunt.

Professor Hunt says mental health teams and professionals in affected towns are likely to be inundated with requests for help and reminds people that until March 31 anyone struggling to cope with the fallout of the floods can access Medicare rebates for psychology services via telehealth.

“The existing Medicare Rebate for psychology services through telehealth has a Federal Government funding cut-off of 31 March 2021,” says Professor Hunt.

“We have been calling for an extension to this vital service for several months and the floods ravaging NSW have made this service even more important.

“Telehealth creates an opportunity for professionals all over the country to support people in flood affected regions through these challenging events.

“Telehealth also means people who cannot get to their usual mental health professional because of the disaster can access care from their regular provider over the phone.

“It is vital the Morrison Government responds swiftly to the mental health needs of Australians during this emergency.”

Anyone struggling with mental health concerns is encouraged to seek help from their GP, other healthcare provider or through services such as Beyond Blue.

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