The deepening drought in New South Wales, north-west Victoria and eastern South Australia, in addition to the continuing drought in Queensland, has a far reaching impact on individuals, families and whole communities. These impacts are both physical and emotional; disrupting lives and resulting in great emotional distress. The longer the drought continues, waiting and hoping for rain slowly turns into feelings of hopelessness. Financial hardship increases and with it despair; family tensions may build along with the day to day trauma of watching livestock and crops fail seriously affecting mental health and the ability to keep functioning.
Businesses which support farming communities also feel the impact as they watch their communities struggle with less money to spend. With such large parts of the country in drought it is inevitable that even employees in unrelated areas will have close friends or relatives experiencing the drought. Organisations can play a vital and valuable role in assisting and supporting their employees and their families through these times.
It’s important to be aware that everyone will respond differently and everyone’s needs may be different, initially and over time. Being prepared to provide initial and long term support for people will enhance and promote their own personal coping strategies and resilience.If needed, allow time to spend time with family and friends – this helps them to feel connected. May need time to support family who live on the land.Encourage employees to reach out and ask for help or support those who need it..Create an environment that allows people to talk amongst themselves about fears and hopes related to the tragic events. There is comfort in a shared community supporting one another.Be mindful and respectful of individual needs. Some people may feel uncomfortable or scared of sharing their feelings. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel.Encourage people to communicate their needs, rather than assume you know what their needs may be.Promote self-efficacy by engaging people in meeting their own needs, by helping them regain their confidence and ability to manage their current and future situations.Maintain communication if an employee is away for any length of time.
Give people assurance that affected families will be supported in some form or another. Recent Government funding for mental health and $12 000 support payments indicate that the need for support is being recognised. For more information visit: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/climate-and-emergencies/droughthubThe drought impacts everyone as watching other’s distress and suffering affects everyone. The various efforts to support farmers by organisations allows everyone to make a difference, big or small. These community initiatives allow everyone to get involved and help people feel connected, giving back helps feelings of helplessness.Encourage groups or teams to decide what will be meaningful and helpful for them to do as a community e.g. support a charity, raise money for a community. There is a power in healing when people stand together at times like this.With R U OK? Day on 13 September remind people to ask others who are struggling if they are ok. This day may also provide a opportunity for fundraising (see links below)Provide simple and accurate information on how to access services, specifically encourage, and make it easy for, employees to speak with a professional counsellor. Coverage in the media will continue until the drought has broken so it may be in the longer term when people need support from a counsellor or their Employee Assistance Program.
How can we all help?