Murray River flood-affected communities urged to seek mental health support

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South Australia’s chief psychiatrist is recommending Murray River communities seek mental health support sooner rather than later as they enter the recovery phase of last month’s flood event.Key points:South Australia’s leading psychologist says flooded communities should consider their long-term mental healthSA’s government has committed $1 million in mental health funding to affected communitiesFlood-impacted residents say support from friends and family is key to resilienceMany residents of the Riverland and Murraylands had weeks to prepare for the influx of water travelling downstream from neighbouring Victoria.But this longer pre-disaster period caused uncertainty, stress and sleepless nights, especially for those ready to evacuate, such as Old Calperum resident Sharleen Lloyd.”It was pretty scary because this is the first time our levee bank’s been through a flood, so we didn’t really know if that was gonna cope,” she said.”Were we gonna wake up at 2am with water at our feet … trying to get the animals out if we had to do an emergency evacuation?” Ms Lloyd’s home is surrounded by the picturesque flood plains that make up the Murray River National Park.(Supplied: Sharleen Lloyd)Ms Lloyd says the support of friends and family during that stressful time was crucial to keeping her family’s spirits high.”The previous owner was ringing all the time, just asking if the levee’s held and if we were OK,” she said.”People kept in contact with us to see how we were going, if we were surviving and if we needed any help.”Long-term considerationsSA Health chief psychiatrist John Brayley said while the period immediately following a natural disaster could be a relief, it was important for those impacted to consider their long-term mental health. “The initial post-response phase can actually be quite a positive time because there’s community bonding, disaster relief agencies are present and voluntary agencies are helping,” he said. “It can be a year or two or longer before people finally pause, having been so busy, and just reflect on the impact that this has had on them.”  Dr John Brayley says it’s important to access mental health support early on.(ABC News)If you or anyone you know needs help:As part of its flood response, the state government committed $1 million in mental health funding to those flood-affected communities.  The package offers impacted residents increased telehealth support, as well as more informal local services such as community counselling. Dr Brayley said it was especially important for people to access support early. “It’s fairly clear … that if people get counselling earlier, it can have a positive effect on their future,” he said. Care within communitiesMid Murray Council Mayor Simone Bailey is encouraging locals who have been impacted by the flood event to talk it out in the community.Ms Bailey has been a part of the Mid Murray Suicide Prevention Network for two years.She says she has witnessed the group “significantly change lives”. Ms Bailey (left) says the catch ups can offer a way to solve problems with a collaborative approach.(Supplied: Simone Bailey)After seeing devastating scenes in towns such as Blanchetown and Morgan, Ms Bailey organised the first of many coffee catch ups, giving locals a space to discuss their wellbeing.”We just listened to the community, listened to what the needs were,” she said.”What we’ve learnt is that getting out and talking can help a lot. When we’re having these coffee and chat sessions, we’re suggesting that communities get together, have a barbecue and talk to your mates.”Local news direct to your inboxABC Riverland will deliver a wrap of the week’s news, stories and photos every Tuesday. Sign up to stay connected.

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