Over the last week, I have traveled around South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria speaking and have witnessed first hand the effects that one of the worst droughts in history is having on rural and regional communities. I have heard some heartbreaking stories and even though some areas have received rain the effects of the drought are unrelenting.
The obvious climatic and even economic effects can be plainly seen, it's not until you get to talk face to face and connect with the people in these communities that the effect on their mental health and wellbeing becomes evident and I am not just talking about the farmers, the ripple effect of the drought is spreading far and wide throughout the community.
The stress caused by this extreme ongoing climatic event can lead to burnout and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Longterm stress may also cause more serious physical and mental health problems, such as heart problems, ulcers, depression or anxiety disorders.
Some common signs of stress due to floods, drought, and extreme climate events may include:
• Physical symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, aches and pains, muscle tension, weight loss/gain, chest or back pain, diarrhoea or constipation, injuries or accidents
• Always feeling tired, lacking energy or motivation
• Feeling angry, aggressive or irritable
• Increased worrying, nervousness, anxiety or fear
• Often feeling down or depressed
• Having difficulty concentrating or forgetfulness
• Disappointment, guilt, shame or feeling like “a failure”
• Feeling helpless or out of control
• Resentment or blaming others for the situation
• Withdrawing from friends and family, becoming distant
• No longer enjoying hobbies and interests
• Increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs to cope or escape the situation
• Feeling hopeless, worthless or like “life is not worth living”
• Thoughts of suicide or harming yourself.
Most people experience some of these emotions at some point in their lives. However, if you are experiencing several at the same time or if they interfere with your ability to carry out daily activities, you should talk to someone you trust (e.g. partner, friend, relative) and seek help from your GP or another health professional. Everyone deals with stressful circumstances differently, so it is important to find ways of managing stress that work for you. The important thing to remember is that you can get through it and you don’t have to go through it alone.
Follow the link to find out some strategies that might help you cope with extreme climatic events.
You don’t have to travel your journey alone and there are many services available to help.
Your GP or local health services or Primary Health Network in your area or region
Lifeline on 13 11 14 who offer a range of services including crisis support. www.lifeline.org.au
Virtual Psychologist on Text for 24/7 support on 0488807266 Call on 1300 665 234 www.virtualpsychologist.com.au
Rural Aid also offers a counseling service on 1300 327 624 www.ruralaid.org.au/counselling