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Disasters are common in Australia. As a health practitioner, particularly in disaster-impacted and disaster-prone areas, you need to be prepared so you can help individuals and communities to recover. The Disaster Mental Health Hub will help you do just that.
The bushfire royal commission warned in 2020 that Australia can expect increasingly frequent and intense disasters – many of which are likely to be compounding – along with lengthening disaster seasons.
Bushfires, extreme weather, floods and other traumatic events can be devastating for those directly impacted as well as the people involved in disaster management efforts. The psychological effects can be felt in the short term as well as over the weeks, months and years following.
Phoenix Australia has developed a new website, the Disaster Mental Health Hub – an online source of information, resources and training for general practitioners (GPs) and other health professionals who support individuals and communities experiencing the mental health impacts of disasters.
The hub provides busy practitioners with quick access to free disaster mental health information, resources such as tip sheets and videos, and online training programs.
You can find tailored information, resources and training to help you during the three phases of disaster response: preparation (before), response (during and immediately after), and recovery (medium and longer term).
Preparing for a future disaster will help you to manage your own fear and anxiety, and ensure that you and your workplace are best placed to support the mental health of individuals and communities after a disaster.
A mental health response plan is an excellent starting point: include the types of disasters that may affect your local area; develop a plan for what to do in the event of a disaster; and begin to gather useful resources and engage with agencies that will likely provide mental health support to the community.
The preparation phase is the best time to participate in professional development activities, to build your capacity and that of your team to provide necessary services.
The previously prepared mental health response plan now comes into play, to help you prioritise during what is likely to be a busy and stressful time.
There are two phases to consider in responding to mental health needs following disaster: the acute or immediate phase, and the rebuilding or recovery phase – which may unfold over months or years.
Psychological First Aid and simple psychological strategies, employed in the early phase, will help to address transient psychosocial difficulties and support recovery.
A range of mental health issues may arise in both the early and later phases of response. Depending on your role, you should ensure you are competent in using appropriate evidence-based strategies, and refer individuals to relevant mental health services as necessary.
While the majority of people recover in the weeks and months following a disaster, some people may experience an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental health difficulty, or develop a frank mental health disorder.
It is helpful for you to learn about the possible mental health issues that may arise in the aftermath of disaster, and what evidence-based interventions should be employed, as well as knowing when to refer on to specialist mental health services.
Supporting the psychological recovery of individuals and communities after disaster is a vitally important, and rewarding role, but it comes with its own risks to your wellbeing. Thus, during all phases of disaster – prepare, respond and recover – it is important to look after your own wellbeing and develop a self-care plan, to help you sustain your efforts over time.
A collaborative venture
The Disaster Mental Health Hub has been developed by Phoenix Australia in collaboration with Primary Health Networks (PHNs) and other stakeholder groups.
Funding has been provided by the Australian Government under the Disaster Response – Improving Mental Health Outcomes and Promoting Recovery from Trauma Program. The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, endorsed the hub, saying, “GPs and other health practitioners play an integral role in helping individuals and communities to recover in the aftermath of disasters. The Disaster Mental Health Hub will be a vital resource for them to find the evidence-informed and practical information they need to help communities get back on their feet.”
Nicole Sadler, Head of Policy and Practice at Phoenix Australia said,
We have designed the hub to provide quick access to practical information and advice, when and as practitioners need it. We hope that it will become a go-to resource to find best practice, evidence-based information and training, before, during and after a disaster strikes.”