Mental health recovery information for community members after a disaster

Recovery is about supporting communities affected by a disaster to rebuild infrastructure and restore social, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

It is a complex process that is dependent on the nature of the disaster. Recovery may last weeks, months or even years.

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.

What to look out for

Signs you might hear or see that tell you a person may need support

It is common for people to experience a range of different responses to a disaster. Some signs that a person may need support are obvious and some signs are less obvious. Signs might be verbal, emotional, cognitive, physical or behavioural.

Below are some examples of signs you may notice in yourself or others.

Verbal signs

  • more withdrawn, not communicating in the way they normally would
  • expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • may talk about a ‘friend’ as having problems, which may be a way of the person talking about their own struggles and reaching out for support
  • talking about self-harm, suicide or death
  • saying things such as:
    • "What's the point? Things are never going to get any better"
    • "It's all my fault, I should have been more prepared"
    • "I can't take this anymore, I’ve had enough"
    • "I'm on my own… I don’t have anyone to talk to"
    • "It can’t be fixed… things will never be the same again"
    • "Nothing I do seems to make a difference, it's out of my control".

Emotional signs

  • feeling worthless
  • anxious
  • fearful
  • guilt
  • grief
  • anger outbursts
  • impatience
  • frustration
  • low self-confidence
  • overwhelming sadness
  • numbness
  • irritability
  • crying
  • loneliness.

Cognitive signs

  • confusion
  • nightmares
  • flashbacks
  • confused about place and time
  • obsessing about the incident
  • poor concentration and attention
  • difficulty remembering the event
  • difficulty adapting to change
  • difficulty understanding their reaction to the event.

Physical signs

  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite or over eating
  • pain
  • very sensitive to unexpected sound
  • sudden weight gain or loss
  • persistent fatigue or exhaustion
  • loss of interest in personal hygiene or appearance
  • loss of sexual interest
  • loss of interest in normal recreational activities.

Behavioural signs

  • self-harming
  • increased use of drugs and/or alcohol to cope
  • frequent use of humour (which is different to how the person is normally)
  • trouble sleeping
  • work absenteeism or decreased presence in the community
  • giving away things that are treasured by them
  • apathy
  • consistently forgetting to take medication that is necessary for maintaining health and wellbeing
  • taking extreme risks that show little value for own life (e.g. driving at risk).

Ways to look after yourself

  • staying connected with regular support systems such as family and friends, neighbours, services and others in the community
  • accepting help to address the immediate practical needs, which may help to reduce stress levels
  • link with local relief and/or recovery centres, if they have been set up
  • if available through the State Recovery Hotline, register for a health and wellbeing outreach visit: 1800 302 787.
    Visit for more information on response and recovery arrangements
  • using strategies or activities that would normally help in times of high stress or when feeling down
  • getting back into a routine, even if it is different to the routine prior to the incident
  • looking after physical health and wellbeing through regular healthy meals and physical exercise.

Helpful resources

How do I help others?

Tips on engaging with people who may need support

An important part of communicating with someone is to build trust. This will help the person to feel that there is someone who cares about their wellbeing and is there to listen. If a person feels comfortable talking more openly, it will give a better understanding on how they are coping and if they might benefit from other supports.

The following are some suggested ‘conversation starters’ you could consider using when talking with people who might be showing some of the signs listed earlier:

  • “Are you okay?”
  • “It has been a really tough time lately, how are you coping with everything?”
  • “I’m a bit worried because you haven’t seemed yourself lately”
  • “I have noticed that you have been (name type of behaviour), is everything ok?”
  • “Is there something that I can do to help?”
  • “I am here for you if you ever want to talk”
  • “Do you know where to get some extra help if you need to?”
  • “Is there someone that you feel comfortable talking to if you need?”

Keep offering support, even if the person doesn't accept it the first time. If they know there are people around them willing to help, they might be more likely to reach out and access support when they are ready.

What else can I do?

  • provide reassurance to the person and encourage them to accept support from family and friends, and community programs
  • encourage contact with local Relief and/or Recovery centres (if available)
  • identify activities they normally do that help when they are not feeling like themselves
  • encourage the person to visit their GP and/or to contact services, and reassure them that it’s ok to seek help
  • 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 maintain physical health and wellbeing through regular healthy meals and physical exercise.