Most people will suffer stress and grief after living through a traumatic event such as an emergency or disaster. Sometimes the impact is obvious straight away but often it's a slow process and can have a long lasting effect.
Common reactions to a traumatic event vary from person to person and include:
- feelings of anger, fear or sadness
- feeling overwhelmed
- feeling detached, numb or withdrawn
- difficulty concentrating and remembering details
- trouble thinking clearly or making decisions
- being teary
- being anxious
- sleep problems.
Dealing with the emotional impact
There are a number of steps that you can take to ease your stress and grief which include:
- acknowledging your feelings and talk about them
- spending time with family and friends
- accepting help from family and friends, and community programs
- getting into a routine even if it is different from your old routine
- when tackling big projects or issues, breaking them down into smaller practical tasks
- eating healthy meals; not over-indulging in alcohol or comfort foods
- taking time out to do things you enjoy away from the area so you aren't constantly reminded of the event
- exercise and staying active
- limiting your exposure to media coverage of the disaster
- trying to focus on positive memories and planning for the future.
When to get help
If you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms seek professional help:
- finding it difficult to participate in day to day activities
- not getting along with family, friends and work colleagues
- feeling overwhelming fear or experiencing panic attacks for no obvious reasons
- continuing to have nightmares, poor sleep or flashbacks
- having persistent thoughts and mulling over the same thing over and over
- feelings of sadness or depression that seem too severe or are lasting too long
- using excessive amounts of alcohol or drugs to cope with the situation
- loss of hope or interest in the future
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Where to get help
Seeking counselling, mental health advice or the services of a mental health professional is a normal part of recovery from an emergency. This should not be seen as a weakness but as good self-care.
The Red Cross provides mental health first aid services for people recovering from a disaster. Give them a call on 8100 4500.
General mental health services
In a mental health emergency, contact the SA Health mental health service on 131 465 available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Speak to your doctor about any issues or concerns that you have as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to help and can make referrals to specialist mental health services.
Visit the SA Health website to find out who to contact for urgent mental health issues and for counselling and support services or contact a phone helpline:
- LifeLine - phone 131 114
A 24-hour phone service that offers confidential support and advice to help you deal with stress and personal challenges.
- Beyondblue information line - phone 1300 224 636
An information line that offers expert information on depression; how to recognise the signs of depression, how to get help, how to help someone else and how to stay well.
- Mensline - phone 1300 789 978
A telephone support, information and referral service, helping men deal with their relationship problems.
- Nurse-on-Call - phone 1300 60 60 24
A 24-hour phone service that allows people to discuss any health-related issue with a registered nurse for the cost of a local call.
- Suicide Call Back Service - phone 1300 659 467.
Children's coping with disasters or emergencies is often tied to the way parents cope. They can detect adult's fears and sadness.
Parents are the best source of support for children in disasters. Ways of helping children to cope is dependent on their age and capacity to understand. Some suggestions include:
- calmly provide factual information about the disaster and plans for ensuring their safety
- encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings
- let children know how you are feeling without overwhelming them
- assure children that it is normal to feel sad and upset
- take their fears seriously and give them additional attention
- expect and be tolerant of regressive behaviour in younger children (thumb-sucking and bed-wetting)
- involve children by giving them specific chores to help them feel they are helping to restore family life.
Kids Helpline - phone 1800 551 800
On this site
- Looking after yourself and your family after a disaster - Beyond Blue
- Trauma reaction and recovery - Vic Health
- Travelling the road to recovery video series - Vic Human Services
- Resources on Looking after yourself and children after afer an emergency - Australian Red Cross
- Psychological assistance with natural disasters - Australian Psychological Society