Mental health groups face breakdown in flood's wake

Mental health groups face breakdown in flood's wake

By Annie Guest

Updated January 28, 2011 07:19:00

Mental health services, major charities and doctors in Queensland are warning that they need more money to help people deal with the emotional aftermath of the floods.

Already, there has been a 37 per cent increase in demand for services.

It comes as some groups struggle to deal with flood damage to their own buildings.

Lifeline's executive director of community care in Queensland, Bob Gilkes, says some of the thousands of Queenslanders whose homes and businesses were affected by the floods are starting to think they have no way out of their troubles.

"We have had many calls to our financial first aid line from people that have been considering suicide because of the financial situation that they have been left in as a result of the floods," he said.

Lifeline, the Red Cross, representatives from 103 mental health organisations, doctors, and the children's charity Boystown have all on average seen an increase in demand for their services of almost 40 per cent since the floods.

They say before the floods mental health services were already unable to keep up with demand.

The Australian Medical Association's president-elect in Queensland, Dr Richard Kidd, says children are also struggling.

"GPs such as myself are seeing already people turning up in their waiting rooms who have either had terrible losses themselves and had some ordeals in terms of physical stress, but also we've been seeing children," he said.

The number of children trying to seek assistance from Boystown's Kids Help Line has risen by 50 per cent this month.

Some get cut off when their mobile phone credit cuts out, because all telecommunications providers, bar Optus, charge them for the 1300 call.

Boystown's Tracey Adams has appealed to providers for compassion.

"We would like to see where critical services are recognised on a mobile phone as being a free call. They are free from a landline," she said.

Some of those children who use the service have been dislodged from their flood affected homes and are staying elsewhere.

New housing crisis

Jeff Cheverton heads the Queensland Alliance of Mental Illness and Psychiatric Disability Groups.

Brisbane Queensland Australia charities guide find a charity to ...

Charities & Non Profit Organizations In Brisbane Queensland ... The Eating
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He says there is a huge housing crisis on its way.

"We've had reports from Ipswich, for example, that people are in temporary arrangements living with friends and family and they are starting to break down," he said.

Many from the poorer suburbs around Ipswich, west of Brisbane, were already significantly disadvantaged.

Now there is nowhere for many of them to go because hundreds of rental properties were rendered uninhabitable by the floods.

Mr Cheverton wants the Reconstruction Authority to make housing a top priority.

Housing his member organisations is also a problem, with the premises of at least 7.5 per cent of mental health groups destroyed by the floods.

Three times that amount were directly affected in other ways.

Damage to Boystown's Brisbane headquarters will cost $1 million to repair.

With demand soaring, the charities are appealing for more money from Government and businesses.

Saving, not spending

In the long run, Mr Gilkes says supporting those traumatised by the floods is about saving money, not spending money.

"If we don't address some of the psychosocial issues that will exhibit in the community over the next few months, they will have lasting effects in our society for generations to come," he said.

"That could be much more expensive than what it would cost to address the issues now."

Mr Gilkes says Lifeline predicts that 200,000 people are going to need help and the charity says it will cost $2 million just to give individual support to less than 1 per cent of those people.

"If you have families that become dysfunctional because of stress, depression, anxiety, anger, you have families break up," he said.

"You generally see much more dependence on the welfare system and that can go on generationally."

While the big charities like Lifeline and the Red Cross appeal for substantial dollars, smaller mental health organisations say they could be greatly assisted by smaller disaster relief payments.

Mr Cheverton says many groups in need are not able to get support.

"The National Disaster Recovery Agreement, which is a tripartite three levels of government agreement, excludes non-profit organisations from getting small business assistance," he said.

The mental health groups are urging the Federal Government to waive the requirement that organisations must be small businesses to access the disaster relief payments.

First posted January 27, 2011 22:35:00


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