Friday, October 28, 2011

Disasters affect us in many ways.

Damage to or destruction of homes, property and cherished belongings together with the obvious physical effects including loss of loved ones, pain or physical challenges are usually apparent.  Initial short-term emotional effects such as fear, acute anxiety, grief, emotional numbness etc are very common.

However the emotional impact of a disaster often manifests some time later and can continue for many years to come.

Whilst effective disaster management seems to revolve around ‘PPRR’ – Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery, what do we know about the long term human and social effects and how do we recognise the warning signs of a fractured community?

There is overwhelming evidence that disasters can lead to a range of posttraumatic health problems. Over the past several decades, much research has informed us about the array of psychological and physical problems arising from natural and man-made disasters.

In the wake of a disaster, marital conflict and distress rises, increases in divorce rates follow, parent-child conflicts increase and more cases of intra-family violence (child and spouse abuse) have been reported.  Rates of community violence, aggression, drug and alcohol abuse and the rate of legal convictions in the wake of a disaster also increase.

It is thought that whilst the mental health effects of a catastrophe can be felt for years (and sometimes decades) afterwards, the casual link between the disaster and observed mental health problems may not be obvious. 

The impact of disasters on children often goes unnoticed as parents, grandparents and other extended family members are struggling with complex issues.  They have less ability to judge which fears are realistic and which are not and regardless of the source, children’s responses to disasters must be taken seriously.

The Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference in Brisbane from April 16 to April 18 next year will feature streams on the emotional impact of disasters (adults, children, volunteer workers etc) and also a workshop on ‘The warning signs of fractured communities’ and the call for papers is now open on the conference website – .

The conference committee are keen to create a comprehensive forum that will grow to become an annual event that will take place either in Australia or New Zealand in years to come and as such would like to see the conference offer professionals (and future professionals) including relevant health care professionals an opportunity to advance and improve approaches, thoughts and opinions and develop expertise, competencies and aptitudes relating to information and facts surrounding preparedness for future disasters, emergencies and hazards and the ability to recover from them quickly and efficiently. 

Please feel free to also submit your ideas re suitable workshops/sessions etc that you believe we should consider including in our conference – please email

Friday, October 7, 2011

Delegates from over 100 regional and rural towns in Australia and New Zealand will attend this years conference in Ballarat.

3rd Australian Rural & Remote Mental Health Symposium
"Impacts & Outcomes" - Mercure, Ballarat 14th – 16th November 2011
Delegates from over 100 regional and rural towns in Australia and New Zealand will
attend this years conference in Ballarat.

The Symposium will examine the mental health implications of;
  • Social Change     
  • Financial Factors
  • Environmental Adversities
These factors and others can severely impact on the mental health of individuals and
upon community functioning, cohesion, and resource availability.

1. What lessons can be learned from our response to these changes?

2. How can mental health professionals prepare themselves, their clients and their
communities, to deal more effectively with future negative occurrences in rural
and remote areas?

3. How can the resources of government, mental health professionals, emergency services
and private practitioners, be better utilised for optimal benefit?

I invite you to join me, together with the symposium committee, in learning what is being done
and what needs to be done to better meet the mental health needs of rural and remote populations.

You can view or download the program here.

I hope you can join us in historic Ballarat.

Kind Regards
Dr Norman Barling
Symposium Chair
Conference Secretariat
Australia and New Zealand Mental Health Association Inc
Ph: (61 7) 5502 2068
ABN: 24361935548 | IA36632
Conference Website:

Building Capacity of Communities to Help People with Mental Health Problems

The Mental Health First Aid program has solid evidence for its effectiveness from randomized controlled trials and qualitative studies in increasing knowledge, reducing stigma and, most importantly, increasing supportive actions by members of the public to people with mental health problems.

The program was developed in Australia in 2001 and has spread to many other countries. Currently over 170,000 Australians (1% of the adult population) have done the training.

It is feasible to greatly expand this number so that the community as a whole can take a greater role in supporting people with a mental illness. A first aid certificate is required for practice in certain occupations.

Similarly, a Mental Health First Aid certificate needs to become a prerequisite for practice in occupations which involved increased contact with people having mental health problems, such as nursing, medicine, teaching, social work, welfare studies, youth work, Aboriginal health work, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech pathology and prosthetics.

Making a Mental Health First Aid part of the basic training of these human service professionals would greatly extend the nation’s capacity to support people with mental illnesses.

Ms Betty Kitchener - Director, Mental Health First Aid Program, University of Melbourne
Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium, Nov 2011, Ballarat Vic