Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine opinion piece on floods and testing our resilience

An opinion piece from Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine on floods and testing the resilience and mental strength of Australians.

Date published:
Media type:
General public

On top of the widespread bushfires of 2019–20 and the two-year COVID-19 pandemic, the catastrophic floods up and down Australia’s eastern seaboard will again very significantly test the resilience and mental strength of those affected – both directly and indirectly.

I have watched with concern the floods and how their aftermath has turned the lives of thousands of people in New South Wales and Queensland upside down.

Like all Australians, I have found the images of personal possessions stacked up on the sides of roads in flood-affected communities to be deeply distressing. I know many of the items that have been destroyed by the floods are irreplaceable.

What makes this so much worse is knowing so many people have had to rebuild their lives after earlier natural disasters – only to be confronted with these devastating floods.  

At the same time, it has been inspiring to see communities coming together and so many people helping others out in their moment of need. I am confident that together, Australians will get through this flood disaster.

For some in the flood-affected communities, the current calamity has come on top of the impact of the bushfires, and then the restriction of travel and loss of income associated with COVID-19.

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster such as a major flood event, finding safe shelter, protecting the most precious possessions, and checking in with others is our first concern.

As the flood waters subside, and the extent of the damage is fully revealed, there is often a more emotional response. Anger, despondency and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness are all common responses.

Ensuring the safety of yourself, loved ones and others, including pets, is the most immediate priority. But recovering mentally will be equally important.

It is vital people reach out to others to share their feelings and experiences, and to offer understanding and empathy to those in similar situations.

Equally, it is important people take time out to do whatever it is that will give them most comfort and pleasure. This can help to reduce stress levels before providing emotional support to others.

If you are feeling stuck, support is available. In times of natural disaster, community organisations swing into action – and the Australian Government has provided funding to support additional services and build the capacity of organisations already in place.

This includes services to meet immediate psychological needs, support for children and young people, health and wellness grants to support community responses, and funding to fast-track the establishment of a Head to Health centre in the northern NSW town of Lismore.

These measures will ensure immediate and longer-term mental health support for individuals, families, and communities affected by the disaster, and will also include a range of community recovery initiatives.

The Government is also implementing measures to ensure continuity of primary health care services for flood-impacted Australians, particularly in worst hit communities.

In times like these, it is often those with particular vulnerabilities or challenges who need most help. It is really important people continue with their current treatments to reduce the risks they face.

I know the work of volunteers has been immense and invaluable – and I’d like to pay tribute to everyone involved. When I hear what local communities are doing to support those most in need, I am truly humbled and impressed.

But – please – do not try to be too stoic. It is absolutely fine to reach out for help.  

For those in need of mental health support, a range of organisations can provide assistance – and I encourage people to reach out for the help they offer.






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