Study looks at psychological effects of natural disasters

Study looks at psychological effects of natural disasters

7 April 2008

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Australia — Australia has had more than its fair share of natural disasters of late – and researchers want to find out how people cope.

The results of a survey will be used to help counsellors dealing with victims of future floods, bushfires, droughts, storms and cyclones, said Queensland University of Technology psychology honours student Catherine Pritchard.

People who had been through such disasters as the recent floods in north and central Queensland, bushfires in South Australia and storms in Sydney and Melbourne, were being asked to fill in an online or paper questionnaire, Ms Pritchard said.

She has been working with Professor Kathryn Gow, from the university’s School of Psychology and Counselling, who has been researching the effects of trauma for many years.

“We are collecting data on demographics, specifics about the natural disaster and how they coped with it,” Ms Pritchard said today.

“We are hoping that by uncovering all these factors and strategies, it’s going to raise awareness of counselling needs that are going to be effective for people who have undergone a natural disaster.

“They are quite unique life stresses because they not only affect an individual but they generally affect an entire community.”

Some victims might have experienced more than one disaster, she said.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed Australia was particularly vulnerable to natural disasters due largely to its geographical location and latitude.

“A lot of the research is showing there has been a dramatic increase in the number of natural disasters and some researchers have speculated that the chances of at least one happening in an individual’s lifetime are quite high,” Ms Pritchard said.

Natural disasters mostly struck without warning, and almost anyone could become a victim, she said.

“They are devastating experiences and there is normally a lot of loss, including financial and mental health consequences,” she said.

Results of the survey were expected by the end of the year.

Ms Pritchard said she hoped to find at least 200 people who had lived through a natural disaster in the past 12 months to fill out the questionnaire, which can be found at

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