Natural disasters and affects on mental health

Single figure of man on hill side looking out. One lone tree in background. Little to no grass or trees on the land. Dry. Arid. Man wears a checkered collared shirt and old farming hat

In 2023, the Climate Council conducted a research study which revealed the long-lasting impact of natural disasters on the mental health of Australians, particularly those in rural communities.

Australia is well-known as a land of weather extremes. We have a long history of droughts, floods, fires and cyclones devastating communities across the country, particularly impacting on rural areas and people who depend on the land for a living.

Now, with climate change upon us, we’re seeing even more frequent and severe weather disasters, the consequences of which go beyond damage to land and infrastructure. Natural disasters are destroying whole communities and taking a heavy toll on our nation’s mental health.

Recent research by the Climate Council, supported by Beyond Blue, has shown just how significant the impacts are. With 80% of respondents saying they’ve experienced some form of natural disaster since 2019, more than half said their mental health has been impacted. One in five claims the disaster had a ‘major or moderate impact’ on their mental health.

Unsurprisingly, people living in rural and remote areas are the most affected. They were not only more likely to have experienced flooding and its consequences, they were also more likely to report inadequate mental health services following a natural disaster (41% compared to 33%).

Natural disasters can be especially traumatic in rural and regional areas. Entire communities and their livelihoods can be effectively wiped out due to a flood or fire. Homes, schools, workplaces, and entire crops can be destroyed. People’s lives and way of living are simply turned upside down by these often unpredictable, and uncontrollable events that have affected them and everyone they know.

When people experience a traumatic event like a natural disaster, they are at risk of developing depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Whole communities may experience a ‘collective trauma’ following a disaster that has affected them all. Because of this, we need to be equipping communities with the support they need to rebuild not just their buildings, but their sense of safety and social connectedness following a natural disaster.

Mental health support is a crucial component of their recovery, and one that many in remote and rural areas suggest is missing. As we expect natural disasters to further increase in severity and frequency with climate change, it’s essential that we improve access to mental health services.

At ACAP, we are offering professional psychology services for people affected by natural disasters, both in person and via zoom so that people in rural and remote areas have access. The ACAP Psychology Clinic is staffed by provisionally registered psychologists under the supervision of qualified and experienced endorsed psychologists, so the service is high quality and informed by current research.

If you or someone you know may benefit from the service, you can find out more about the ACAP Psychology Clinic here.



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