Fairfax Media Network

Weather News

Psychologists warn emotional impact of Cyclone Debbie is far from over, three months on

Sophie Meixner, Melissa Maddison and Rachel Riga, Tuesday July 11, 2017 - 10:04 EST

Two community recovery psychologists dispatched to North Queensland this week say the emotional effects of Tropical Cyclone Debbie are far from over, three months on from the weather event.

Rob Gordon and David Younger will deliver a series of cyclone recovery workshops in the Mackay, Isaac and Whitsunday regions focusing on the medium to long-term emotional impacts of natural disasters.

The clinical psychologists previously dealt with the emotional fallout following disasters including Melbourne's Bourke Street attack, the Christchurch earthquake, and the Black Saturday bushfires.

After the cyclone, a 'second disaster'

Dr Gordon said residents could experience a "second disaster" after the initial adrenaline rush of coping with the immediate impacts of the cyclone had worn off.



"Emergency mode kicks in when we're faced with tremendous difficulties and threats and simply shuts down a lot of these more personal, more reflective states of mind," he said.

"That's very adaptive and very helpful, but around about now people are going to need to stop and slow down.

"Your adrenaline means you're running on reserves, and they're limited, and when they run out you fall over, so to speak, and often feel physically exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed.

"That's really when people are vulnerable to depression and and other anxiety states."

He said problems that often appeared months on included memory and concentration issues and difficulty delegating or organising tasks.

"If people aren't able to take care and make a good plan, they often lose weeks or months at a time in their recovery program, because they're just not in any state to make the phone calls, do the work, make negotiations, make the plans," he said.

"It's what stress is doing to our brain and there are very simple things we can do to get our brain in a better state so that we can actually tackle the problem."

Misconceptions compound anxiety

Dr Gordon said a perception among people away from the disaster zone that residents were on the home stretch compounded feelings of anxiety.

"We find in a fairly short time, like around about now, people who weren't in the cyclone-affected areas are really unable to imagine how much difficulty there still is," he said.



"So when they try to talk to the people outside the area that are part of their social networks they are met with a lack of understanding."

Another problem was residents comparing their ordeals to others.

"If people aren't careful they get a bit judgmental, 'well you didn't lose your roof, so what problems have you got? But I lost my business so I've got a major financial problem', and and so on," Dr Gordon said.

Stress may take a year to subside

Recovery sessions will be held in town halls and cyclone-affected schools, and will introduce a framework residents can work through to help them cope moving forward.

Dr Younger said experiencing stress at this stage was a normal part of the recovery process.

"We want people to understand going into a high state of stress is quite normal, but it's important to come down out of that high state of stress and to start to look after yourself," he said.

"It's not at all unusual for people to be still experiencing reactions and responses right through that first year after the event."

He said pre-existing conditions of depression and anxiety could be exacerbated during this time.



"If someone has had pre-existing difficulties or challenges in their life, these things seem to get a lot worse," he said.

"It would be really good for friends and family members, if you notice these changes in people, to say something to them.

"Do it in a very positive and supportive way and let them know that it could be related to the stress of what they're going through at the moment."

To register for a recovery workshop, phone the Department of Communities on 4898 6658.


- ABC

© ABC 2017

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
National Nine News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

September heat records on the forecast

11:36 EST

Unprecedented September heat will affect southern Queensland and northern NSW on Wednesday and Thursday, causing some locations to break records for the second time in a week.

Dam levels across NSW continue to hold despite record dry winter

09:40 EST

Despite a record dry winter and extremely warm daytime temperatures in New South Wales over the last four months, the state's dams are still relatively full.

BOM warns record-breaking temperatures set for Queensland this week

08:11 EST

Temperatures across the state are set to climb again this week, with parts of Queensland tipped to experience more record-breaking days.