Psychology and Allied Health Services

Coping following Townsville’s recent Extreme Weather Event

Although the most recent weather events and resultant flooding has been described as a once in a century occurrence, this may bring little relief to those who have experienced loss.  Unfortunately, there have been thousands of families throughout Townsville and our neighbouring regions facing much devastation or are, in some way, deeply affected. 

The most profound impact will be on those people who have felt their lives, or their loved ones, were at risk, or who witnessed the destruction, stress or injuries wrought by this wild weather.  For some people, this may also reactivate memories of a similar event from their past.  Even if you haven’t been directly involved, you may have friends or family that will need your help.

The initial impact – Our normal reactions:

Reactions that may be experienced after a natural disaster can include confusion; fear, sadness, guilt and anger; difficulty sleeping or concentrating; and being troubled by distressing thoughts and images.

For most people, having family, friends and community support will help decrease these feelings over time.  For some people though, these problems can last longer and may start to interfere with their ability to return to their normal routine.  In some cases, these people may benefit from a health professional’s assistance.

What helps – Healthy coping ideas:

  • Support to regain a sense of safety and control.
  • A secure and loving environment
  • Information about where to receive help and access to services; information about what is normal about their feelings and reactions.
  • Spending time with family and friends is considered crucial to the recovery process.

Followed by:

  • Getting back to everyday routines; regular meals, rest and sleep
  • Returning to work / study
  • Spending time completing enjoyable activities
  • Giving yourself time to manage and deal with what you have been through
  • Remember to seek help from a health professional or your local GP if you continue to struggle with coping.

Remember also to balance how much time you spend watching, listening to and reading about the event – especially the frequent media coverages of the distressing elements of the event.

For our littlies and younger people:

Similar to adults, children will also have strong feelings after experiencing a major weather event.  They generally, however, tend to express and show their feelings of fear, sadness or anger in a different manner and you may notice this more through changes in their behaviours.  These feelings and behaviours are most likely to slowly decrease in a few weeks, especially with support, love and understanding from families and friends.

Children and young people may exhibit ‘naughty’ behaviour as part of their response or become withdrawn, quiet or overly clingy.  It will be important for you to not react with strong feelings or the need to punish the behaviour.  By remaining as calm and understanding as you can, your children will be able to model your coping mechanisms.  The following approaches are recommended:

  • Be mindful of your own feelings and reactions – your children will take their cue from you
  • Reassure the child that they are now safe and cared for.
  • Be available to talk about their worries and feelings – allow them to take the lead. Listening and helping them process the fear of what they don’t understand is important.  Perhaps drawing or painting will also help process.
  • Answer any questions that they have as truthfully and concisely as possible. Avoid giving lengthy and graphic details in your answers.
  • Minimise their access to news coverage and social media about the disaster.
  • Give the child loving attention, especially at bedtime.
  • Encourage expression of emotions – they are part of the healing process.
  • Enjoy activities together as a family. This helps to return to a sense of normality.
  • Encourage the child to participate in group activities at school or in the community that give them a chance to talk about and process what has happened.

If your child is still having problems after a month, visit your GP.
Reference:  Phoenix Australia

Queensland Health’s website provides some beautiful resources for children to help them process their experience, together with information sheets for parents and teachers. Here is the link to access these resources:

And here’s a Tip Sheet from our Australian Psychological Society (APS) around helping children.