How to help psychologically during – and after – the floods

Thousands of Queenslanders have been affected by the recent floods that have disrupted lives and created much distress, cutting off homes and even entire towns and causing the evacuation of  thousands.

Kevin Ronan, a Rockhampton resident and Chair of the Australian Psychological Society’s Disaster Reference Group, said: “There is no doubt that many people are going to be highly distressed by
these events, but I have witnessed a great sense of resilience in the community. The excellent response by the emergency services, and the leadership shown by our Mayor bodes well for recovery from these floods.”

The Australian Psychological Society has prepared the following guidance for the many hundreds of
professionals and volunteers who now want to know the best ways to support those affected to
assist their recovery.

Following a disaster, strive to promote a sense of safety and calm, while at the same time being willing to provide comfort and empathy for people’s distress and loss. Help people to contact friends and loved ones and get the practical assistance they need. Staying connected to support networks following a disaster has been identified as a critical part of people getting back to normal.

To re-establish a sense of safety, people may require help to meet basic needs for food and shelter, and to obtain emergency medical attention. People often need repeated, simple and accurate information on how to access these necessities. Give clear information about what is going on, and help to link them to available services..

Survivors are likely to need contact that is predictable, familiar and respectful. Some people need to share stories and emotions, and should be listened to, but in a way that does not encourage disclosure beyond the level at which they feel comfortable. Others may not want to talk about it at all, and this is also OK: it is not useful, and is perhaps even harmful, to press people to talk about their experiences if they don’t wish to in this initial stage.

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel.  People cope well when they believe they have the ability to manage a stressful event, so remind people of their own coping skills, strengths and resilience. Giving practical suggestions that steer them towards helping themselves and others can be very useful.

Pay attention to children’s needs: Children are a particularly vulnerable group following a disaster. Parents and caregivers should try to acknowledge any upset they may be experiencing while also reassuring their children that, as a family, they will be able to cope with the adversity caused by the floods.

Professor Ronan said: “Helping people reinvigorate a sense of hope, while acknowledging the real distress they may be experiencing, has been identified as one way of helping people manage more effectively as they begin the process of recovery.”

Source: Australian Psychological Society