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Mental health in natural disasters

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Our emotional reactions following stressful events

We all experience events differently. During and following a stressful and challenging experience, it is natural for people to experience a range of responses including intense stress reactions. 

These reactions are not necessarily a sign of a lasting mental health concern. Research following natural disasters has consistently demonstrated that most people adjust and recover without additional or professional intervention and maintain this over time.  

While most people get back to their usual functioning over time, some people will experience a decline in their mental health and wellbeing, or experience mental health problems in the months or even years after the initial event. 

Everyone is different with different needs and situations. What will be useful will also vary from person to person. In the table over the page, there are links to resources and services that can assist with maintaining wellbeing during challenging times, as well as when we are experiencing more pronounced reactions and distress.

Mental health is a sliding scale

Everyone’s mental health moves up and down along a sliding scale from positive, to poor mental health or even mental ill-health, and is influenced by a range of things—including the effects of events and circumstances around us.

Every individual’s response to a mental health challenge is different, and it’s important for responses to match the level of need and preferences of the person seeking help. 

People may find reaching out to existing connections, building stronger connections, and applying other self-care strategies helps to adjust and recover. 

This isn’t always the case and additional support may be needed.

How do you know it's time to seek additional help?

While most people recover from a disaster without additional support, research also shows that many people who could benefit from assistance due to mood or behavioural changes do not seek help in a timely way, or at all.

Understanding common reactions to disaster and trauma is helpful for putting reactions in context. The Beyond Blue resource natural disasters and your mental health identifies common reactions along with a list of reactions that are of greater concern.

If day-to-day functioning is seriously affected for more than four to six weeks after the event, it’s important to discuss this with a GP or a mental health professional.

It’s time to seek professional help when reactions are beyond what is considered a common reaction. Reactions of concern include a loss of hope or interest in the future, thoughts of self-harm or of ending your life, or feeling overwhelming fear or panic for no obvious reason.

Start with your GP

A common first step for professional support about mental health concerns is approaching a general practitioner (GP). GPs can either help you themselves or they can refer you to other healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or occupational therapists.

When required, GPs can work with you to develop a mental health treatment plan that makes appointments with eligible allied health professionals more affordable.


The following organisations and resources can help. 

Immediate and first few weeks

General community

Keep well

Giving to others and volunteering after a disaster is a good way to support your community. There are numerous organisations you can support, such as:

Helping family and friends recover from flood
Look after your wellbeing using tips from Dear mind
Well Mob provides social, emotional and cultural wellbeing resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Life in Mind offers practical and emotional support for flood affected communities
There are resources to help you support someone who has experienced a traumatic event
Birdie’s Tree is a story resource that can help young children make sense of what’s happening
Headspace has resources for supporting a young person following a natural disaster
The way adults interpret and respond to disaster news can impact children and teenagers
Head to Health provides information and resources about supporting mental health and wellbeing

Directly impacted by disaster

Mild distress Moderate distress High distress
Beyond Blue’s information
about common and concerning reactions to natural disaster
Information from Beyond Blue about common and concerning reactions to natural disaster Talk to trusted person at:

Common responses to trauma and the impact of crisis on:

Common responses to trauma and the impact of crisis on:

Adis 24/7 Alcohol and Drug
or call 1800 177 833
Advice for supporting children to cope in natural disasters Managing stress after a disaster Access Beyond Blue support service via phone (1300 22 4636), chat, email or online forums
Managing stress after a disaster Advice for parents on how to support children impacted by disaster or community trauma Access the Suicide Call Back Service for 24/7 telephone and online counselling
Advice for parents on how to support children impacted by disaster or community trauma Tips for teens (13–17 years) and young people on coping with a natural disaster Talk to your general practitioner (GP) or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Care provider
Tips for teens (13–17 years) and young people on coping with a natural disaster Red Cross resources on recovering from a disaster 1300 MH CALL (1300 64 22 55) is a confidential mental health telephone triage service for Queenslanders that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services
Birdie’s Tree can help young children make sense of a natural disaster through story-telling NewAccess is a free coaching program, available in many parts of Queensland for people finding it hard to manage life stress Support groups can also be a helpful resource
Life in Mind offers practical and emotional support for flood affected communities

Head to Health provides links to:

Understand and look after your wellbeing using Dear mind resources MindSpot offers an Indigenous Wellbing Course and a digital mental health clinic   
The Queensland Government’s disaster and emergency recovery website has practical information Young people aged from 5–25 can talk to KidsHelpline at any time for any reason  
Black Dog Institute: How to cope with anxiety in times of global crisis    

After 4–6 weeks

Directly impacted by disaster

Ongoing distress


Talk to your general practitioner (GP) or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Care provider
Your GP can prepare a mental health treatment plan and refer you to a psychologist, other allied health provider, peer worker or psychiatrist
1300 MH CALL (1300 64 22 55) is a confidential mental health telephone triage service for Queenslanders that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services

If you think it is an emergency or someone's life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance, or go straight to the closest emergency department

Support services

Many other services offer counselling and other support to assist with concerns about thoughts, feelings and coping. They can be accessed either online, by telephone or face-to-face. They may be in community health centres, family support or neighbourhood centres or be offered by non-government organisations such as Centacare, Relationships Australia, Headspace centres or Lifeline. Workplaces often offer Employee Assistance Programs and schools, TAFEs and universities also offer student support services.

General community

  • Lifeline offers 24/7 counselling. Phone 13 11 14, text 0477 131 114 or access web chat.
  • 1300 MH CALL is a confidential mental health telephone triage service for Queensland’s public mental health services. Phone 1300 64 22 55.
  • Beyond Blue provides information online and also a support service 24/7 via 1300 224 636 as well as online chat, email and forums.
  • Wellways helpline provides support and referrals for people experiencing issues with their mental health, and their families, friends and carers. All helpline volunteers are ‘peers’—people who have a lived experience of mental health issues. Phone 1300 111 500 Monday to Friday 9:00am to 9:00pm (except public holidays).

Children, young people and families

  • KidsHelpline website has information for different age groups, web chat, email, and peer support as well as telephone and online counselling for  young people aged 5–25 years. Phone 1800 55 1800 anytime, for any reason.
  • Parentline provides age-specific online information as well as support, counselling, and education for parents. Phone 1300 301 300.
  • PANDA Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia supports women, men and families affected by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and in the first year of parenthood. Phone 1300 726 306 Monday to Friday 9:00am to 7:30pm (AEST).
  • A community trauma toolkit hosted by Emerging Minds contains online resources to help and support adults and children before, during, and after a disaster or traumatic event.
  • Headspace and e-headspace provides centrebased, online and telephone-based support services.
  • Open Arms Veterans and Families Counselling provides information, counselling and group programs for Australian veterans, peacekeepers and their families. Phone 1800 011 046.

Alcohol and other drugs support

  • Adis 24/7 Alcohol and Drug Support provides free phone support, information and referral for people with alcohol and other drug concerns. Phone 1800 177 833.

Family and domestic violence

  • 1800RESPECT 24-hour domestic violence helpline. Phone 1800 737 732.
  • DVConnect Womensline telephone service offers 24/7 help to women experiencing domestic or family violence. Phone 1800 811 811.

Support for men

  • MensLine offers telephone and online support, information and referrals to help men with relationship and other problems. Phone 1300 789 978.


  • Diverse Voices offers peer counselling service for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and their families and friends. Phone 1800 184 527 (from 3:00pm to midnight).

Culturally and linguistically diverse communities

  • Multicultural Connect Line is a helpline with an on-demand interpreter service. It offers free information, advice and referral to Queenslanders experiencing hardship, stress or worry. Phone 1300 079 020 or fill in the web form to request a call back. Operates Monday to Friday 9:00am to 4:30pm, closed weekends and public holidays.


  • Arafmi provides a range of supports for family, friends and carers of people with mental illness. Phone 1800 351 881.
  • Carers Queensland has a range of specialised carer and disability support services. Phone 1300 747 636 or email

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