WHEN a region battles through a natural disaster, there’s always a lot of stress through and after the flood or fire, but a western NSW mental health worker has done her bit to make sure people are prepared to take care of themselves, and their mental health, in the recovery phase.
Rural Adversity Mental Health Program co-ordinator in Western NSW, Di Gill, was heavily involved in disaster management during the Lachlan River flooding in September and October last year.
Di and her husband Ron were prepared for the flood, but she had a unique way of getting messages out to people, particularly those who were isolated.
“Through Facebook messenger an old connection messaged me and he was out at Bedgerabong,” Di said.
“He was particularly worried about one family, and wanted some information to help them.
“We knew they were connected to the Bedgerabong community Facebook page, which is how a lot of people were getting their information.
“There were some people doing aerial photography which gave us a good idea of where the water was and what was going on, so from there I started getting up information, and it gave people the opportunity to talk to someone.”
Di also spread information through a few buy, swap, sell pages, and said many people were liking or sharing the information.
She said the advice was simple in a disaster - take care of yourself, keep an eye on neighbours, and rest.
“While you can, rest, and take that down time, because you’re going to have a lot of work to do,” Di said.
“Give your neighbours a ring and ask them how they’re going.”
She also provided numbers for other agencies and mental health helplines.
“It’s really important to be reporting stock losses, damage to fencing, any animal health issues … because those reports are needed for the area to be declared a natural disaster zone and help get funding to the area.”
Di was also able to get others to spread the message, and eventually set up a community support chain mail.
“A community nurse rang concerned about her community and wanted to have a farm family gathering to get out information, but with the amount of water around and road closures this was not possible,” Di said.
“She supplied me with the names and phone numbers of several well respected community members.
“I rang them all and asked if they were willing to share information and guided them through what to do if they found someone needed help.
“I then emailed each one of them information and resources the intent was for them to send it on to at least six other people in their community with the message ‘call me if you need to talk’.
“By doing this we established a community support chain email.”
When a disaster centre was set up, Di was pulling together an information pack, with advice and numbers from stock and station agents, pharmacies, saleyards, hospitals and medical centres, agronomists and the rural assistance authority.
“The first priority during a flood is about protecting family and property, but the more difficult times can be afterwards, when people are waiting to get clearance to build a house, waiting for government funding, or waiting to put crops in,” she said.
“Rural people are very resilient – they’re keen to move on and getting things done, and there weren’t a lot of people that had loss of house, so damage to crops was the biggest problem, and there were dairy farmers who had trouble getting trucks in and out with the closed roads.
“The main thing was, people looking after each other’s mental health and encouraging them to seek help.”
From Di’s hard work, an information package was created, which is now used during natural disasters.
“They’re very similar to what we hand out in mental health first aid courses, but also with practical information and numbers to call for help.”