Recover from the mental health impacts of disasters - for service providers

Recovery is the process of supporting communities affected by a disaster to rebuild physical infrastructure and restore economic, social, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It is a complex process that is influenced by the nature of the disaster. It may last weeks, months or even years.

Common responses following a disaster

It is common for people to experience a range of emotional reactions to a disaster. Sometimes the impact is obvious straight away but often it's a slow process and can have a longer-term impact. Common responses may include:

  • feelings of grief and loss
  • feeling anxious and/or depressed
  • experiencing unpleasant memories
  • feelings of anger and irritability
  • poor concentration and difficulty making decisions
  • feeling tense and on edge all or most of the time
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite and eating habits
  • an increase in physical concerns such as stomach upsets and general aches and pains
  • loss of interest in activities
  • withdrawal from others wanting to be alone.

In addition to the trauma of the incident itself, it is also important to consider the potential broader impacts of a disaster on the emotional wellbeing and functioning of individuals and communities. This may include:

  • level of preparedness and prior warning of the disaster occurring
  • personal experience or threat to loved ones
  • physical injury
  • loss of family members or close persons, pets and livestock
  • loss of material belongings including houses and contents, vehicles/machinery, workplaces, resources
  • dislocation from home, community, work place, and usual support networks
  • seeing and supporting others experiencing distress.

Community recovery is supported by

  • maintaining community connectedness and encouraging access to natural support systems
  • encouraging effective communication between services and the local community
  • providing access to relevant and accurate information
  • providing information on what services are available, and facilitating access to services if required.

During the recovery phase, it is important to acknowledge and work with the strengths and resilience of the affected community and ensure that recovery efforts are shaped around community needs.

For most people, the emotional impacts of a disaster may be relatively mild and will reduce over the initial days and weeks with the support of family and friends and others in the community.

Strategies for supporting natural recovery

  • encourage the person to stay connected with regular support systems such as family and friends, neighbours, services and others in the community
  • encourage the person to accept help to address the immediate practical needs following the disaster, which may help to reduce stress levels
  • encourage contact with local relief and/or recovery centres, if they have been established.

If available through the State Recovery Hotline, encourage the person to register for a health and wellbeing outreach visit  1800 302 787

Visit website for more information on response and recovery arrangements

  • encourage the use of strategies or activities they would normally do to help when they are experiencing high stress levels or feeling down
  • encourage the person to get back into a routine, even if it is different to their routine prior to the incident
  • encourage the person to look after their physical health and wellbeing through regular healthy meals and physical exercise
  • provide access to helpful resources.

Helpful resources