Maintaining good mental health after a natural disaster

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Cyclone Debbie has destroyed properties and belongings in Far North Queensland, and it’s also likely to have had a damaging affect on minds, says a post-traumatic stress disorder expert.

Toowong Private Hospital Director of Medical Services, Dr Andrew Khoo said any traumatic event, from flood, fire and earthquake can have an impact on people’s mental health, but there are a number of things Queenslanders can do to keep a positive outlook.

He shared some tips on maintaining good mental health.

“Don’t focus on what’s wrong, instead focus more on doing the things that are good for your mental health,” said Dr Khoo.

Good mental health care includes:

  • Maintain normality
    • Trying to maintain some normal functioning, be that work, academic studies, social outings, try and maintain this.
    • “One of the worst things you can do when things are difficult is go into your shell and become introverted and alienate yourself from the world around you, because when you do this you take away all the positive things in your life that keep you feeling good,” Dr Khoo said.
  • Use social support and the networks that are available to you
    • This often helps get you through the difficult times, and also restores faith in the world around you, which is often shaken up by these natural disasters.
  • Remember basic self-care
    • Eating right, sleeping right and exercising all help.

At the same time, be aware of mental health symptoms, like:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Worrying a lot
  • Getting upset very easily
  • Being more angry
  • Relationship problems
  • Drinking more or smoking more

“Also know where to seek appropriate help, normally the GP is the starting point, but also counsellors are a great support service,” said Dr Khoo.

A small proportion of people may also experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because of Cyclone Debbie. Dr Khoo said a person would have to experience a certain level of trauma for the diagnosis of PTSD, but you can still be aware of the symptoms for yourself and those around you.

PTSD symptoms to look out for include:

  • Disturbed sleep, for example having nightmares of the event
  • Not being able to get the thoughts of the terrible things that have happened out of your head
  • Avoiding people, situations or circumstances that you think will trigger the trauma that you went through
  • Depressive thoughts, thinking you’re in danger or vulnerable all the time
  • Not enjoying activities anymore
  • Periods where you are bodily anxious, like increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, as well as psychologically anxious like worrying, impatience, being hyper aware of your surroundings and being jumpy.

Queenslanders can seek mental health support from Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) and Lifeline (13 11 14)

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