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August 4, 2021

Floods, drought, PTSD and the climate emergency

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Part of the team doing research on the climate emergency, Associate Professor Megan Passey is deeply concerned about the impact of flooding and other extreme weather events on peoples’ mental health and well-being. Photo supplied.

In April 2017, Cyclone Debbie caused devastating flooding across much of the Northern Rivers. Six months after the flooding the University Centre for Rural Health in Lismore conducted a survey across communities to better understand the impact of the flooding and associated disruption on local residents.

Over 2,500 people responded to the survey.

Associate Professor Megan Passey, from the University Centre for Rural Health in Lismore is deeply concerned about the impact of flooding and other extreme weather events on peoples’ mental health and well-being. She was part of the team of researchers who conducted the survey

‘The survey found much greater rates of poor mental health among those who were flooded relative to those who weren’t,’ said Ms Passey. ‘We found that those people surveyed who had their home, business or farm flooded were 10 times more likely to experience Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms, five times more likely to experience anxiety symptoms and four times more likely to experience depression, compared to people who weren’t flooded.’

Ms Passey said that among the small number of people still displaced from their homes six months after the floods, the risk of Post-Traumatic Stress was nearly 30 times that of those who weren’t flooded.

‘These findings are similar to those from other countries that have experienced extreme flooding,’ she said. ‘What is even more disturbing is that those people living in the areas most impacted by the floods are already the most disadvantaged. Generally river floods hit the poorest parts of communities, and these people have fewer resources to respond and recover.’

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change produces more frequent and more extreme weather events

The Associate Professor and her colleagues say they recognise that flooding is not new in the Northern Rivers, but point out that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change produces more frequent and more extreme weather events.

‘Just this year, January was one of the driest ever on record for our region and January and February were the hottest ever on record,’ she said. ‘While this is clearly very different to floods, there is also evidence that extreme heat is very stressful for those in poor health, particularly the elderly.

‘We also know that the ongoing drought in many parts of Australia is having an impact on the mental health and well-being of farmers, their families and communities.

Passey and her associates are calling on all levels of government – national, state and local government – to acknowledge that we are facing a climate emergency and to urgently develop and implement policies consistent with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

‘We must eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce our carbon emissions. Policies must also support adaptation of environments and communities to the new realities of a warmer planet.’

We must recognise the impacts that extreme weather events have on mental health, and develop appropriate responses to minimise these harms

Passey emphasises that these policies must include supporting those communities currently dependent on fossil fuel extraction or use, such as mining and coal fired power stations, to transition to other industries. Importantly, in relation to the research undertaken by the University Centre for Rural Health, she says we must recognise the impacts that extreme weather events have on mental health, and develop appropriate responses to minimise these harms.

‘There is no planet B!’

* The research team with Associate Professor Megan Passey, who is the Director of Research, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney, are:

Dr Veronica Matthews, Research Fellow, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney
Dr Jo Longman, Research Fellow, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney
Dr John McKenzie, Research Fellow, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney
Ms Maddy Braddon, Research Assistant, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney
Associate Professor Geoff Morgan, Environmental Health, University Centre for Rural Health and Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney
Professor James Bennett-Levy, Mental Health and Wellbeing, University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney
Professor Ross Bailie, Director of the University Centre for Rural Health, and Professor of Public Health, University of Sydney


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NSW Parliament off for a month, with full pay

With COVID-19 cases surging across Sydney and defence forces being deployed in the city, NSW Parliament put out a brief statement last week saying MPs will not sit in the month of August ‘owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in NSW’.

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