Floods and Mental Health

By Laura Healy, Clinical Psychology Registrar

Torrential downpours and flash flooding in February resulted in the death of twenty-two people and damage to more than 25 000 homes and businesses (1). More recently, significant rainfall has again impacted areas of South-East Queensland and extended into Northern New South Wales. It is reasonable for individuals impacted by floods to experience psychological distress.


Evidence indicates that the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is heightened in flood-affected areas compared to unaffected areas (2). Australian data collected from Brisbane’s 2011 floods indicates individual’s whose household or business was evacuated or flooded had higher risk of experiencing psychological distress, had poor sleep quality, and probable PTSD (3).


In the long term, evidence indicates that pre-existing mental health diagnoses, household income, flood severity, and having to move out while repairs are completed, are factors that influence the prevalence of mental health disorders following floods (4). Further, evidence from another natural disaster, the Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires, indicates that the prevalence of mental ill-health remained elevated in affected communities compared to the general population even five years after the event (5).

At True North Psychology we have observed the impacts of the floods operating as a compound on top of clients’ existing stressors including COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukrainian war, among others. It is a really challenging time.


Many people do not currently have a reserve in their capacity to effectively respond to such stress and as a result, report to have hit their limit.

If this is the case for you or someone you know, a brief psychological intervention could be beneficial. Symptoms to look out for include increased agitation or increased tearfulness, interpersonal difficulties, and difficulties completing tasks that would not normally be difficult for you.

References:

  1. Center for Disaster Philanthropy. 2022 Australian Flooding. https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disasters/2022-australian-flooding/#:~:text=As%20of%20March%209%2C%2022,west%20regions%20are%20most%20affected.

  2. Fernandez, A., et al., Flooding and mental health: A systematic mapping review. PloS one, 2015. 10(4): p. e0119929. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0119929

  3. Alderman, K., L.R. Turner, and S. Tong, Assessment of the Health Impacts of the 2011 Summer Floods in Brisbane. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 2013. 7(4): p. 380-386. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/dmp.2013.42

  4. Lamond, J.E., Joseph, R.D., and Proverbs, D.G. An exploration of factors affecting the long term psychological impact and deterioration of mental health in flooded households. Environmental Research, 2015. 140: p. 325-334. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2015.04.0080013-9351/& 2

  5. Bryant, R.A., et al., Longitudinal study of changing psychological outcomes following the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2018. 52(6): p. 542-551. DOI: https://doi. org/10.1177/0004867417714337

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