Cyclone survivors need psychological support

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Cyclone survivors in northern Queensland will need psychological support as much as material support, according to Australian psychologists. ‘Their immediate needs are naturally for the most basic material assistance,’ said Dr Bob Montgomery, Director of Communications for the Australian Psychological Society. ‘First priority must be provision of shelter, drinking water, food, financial support, the absolute basics of life.’

‘But already the signs of need for psychological support will be emerging and will grow for some time. Young children, the elderly or disabled, people who were already vulnerable, may be showing signs of traumatic stress and needing support.’

‘Acute distress in the aftermath of a major natural disaster, like this cyclone, is normal and to be expected. This can include flashbacks during the day, nightmares and disturbed sleep, and an emotionally numbed state that can be mistaken by others as the person being okay when they are actually in shock. Children don’t usually talk about feelings as adults do, so tend to show their distress by acting out or withdrawing,’ said Dr Montgomery.

‘At this stage, people acutely distressed most need and benefit from emotional support, from family and friends. They don’t particularly need formal counselling, just help to accept the normality of their reactions and to start to rebuild their lives.’

‘However, there will be a minority who will start to show signs of longer-term distress, most commonly post-traumatic stress problems. These are potentially serious, involving major depression, mood swings, social withdrawal, and often attempts to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs. Again, survivors can help each other by keeping an eye on those around them, family and friends. If the signs of distress that naturally happen after a major disaster don’t seem to be going away or even seem to be getting worse, then it’s time to encourage that person to get some professional help. Post-traumatic stress problems rarely get better by themselves and often get worse, affecting not only the sufferer but those around them.’

Contact details for psychologists in any area can be obtained from the Australian Psychological Society’s free referral service on 1800 333 497 or online at www.psychology.org.au. Site visitors can also download a practical, step-by-step tip sheet for dealing with the emotional impact of a natural disaster.

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For more information contact:

Elaine Grant
Communications Manager
Australian Psychological Society
03 8662 3363
0412 683 068