Whilst the immediate dangers to physical health from flooding are highly visible, much of the impact on health in England is associated with mental, rather than physical health.
As people continue to manage the fallout of the floods, Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland’s (LLR) NHS Talking Therapies service is encouraging residents who’ve been impacted to check in with their mental health and seek professional support if they are feeling overwhelmed.
“Experiencing a flood can be frightening, traumatic and cause major disruption to your daily activities and the lives of your family. Even if you do not have flood water in your home, events that occur as a result of flooding around you can be very stressful,” said Brendan Street, principal clinical lead of LLR’s NHS Talking Therapies service.
Street continues, “Do not assume that you haven’t been affected enough to be having a significant emotional reaction. We should not underestimate the impact of flooding on mental health, it is very real and can last long after the water has gone”.
The mental health effects of being flooded are far reaching and after surviving a disaster, people can experience a variety of reactions.
Street explains, “It’s normal to experience emotions such as anxiety, fear and worry, and many people may also have trouble sleeping or feel more tired than usual. Checking in with how you’re feeling is a positive step in managing your mental health during this difficult time. It’s OK not to be OK and it’s important to know these feelings will likely ease over time.”
Eight steps to help manage mental health and wellbeing following a flood:
There is no simple fix or one-size-fits-all approach to make things better. However, there are steps people can take to help manage their mental health and wellbeing during this difficult time.
1> Prioritise tasks – the aftermath of a flood can feel incredibly overwhelming. Write down your priorities and split out the tasks. Tackle what you feel you can manage – that might be one, two or three tasks a day. Avoid overstretching yourself during the recovery process.
2> Acknowledge your achievements – tick off each task as you complete it and take time to recognise what you’ve achieved. This can help you feel you are making progress.
3> Write information down – when we’re stressed, our ability to retain information reduces. Keep a notepad and pen on you to write down information from calls or meetings with community services, or make notes on your phone. You may also find it helpful to share the information with family and friends.
4> Avoid dwelling on news reports, images and videos of flooding – it can be tempting to watch or listen to the news all day or to continuously scroll through bad news – otherwise known as doom scrolling. Try to avoid doing this as it may compound negative feelings such as anxiety and stress.
5> Spend time with friends and family – research shows that it’s better to spend as much time as possible with others, rather than go over the event in your own head. The simple act of talking can be very beneficial, so reach out to friends and family if you can.
6> Walk – physical exercise has huge potential to improve wellbeing. It’s important to choose an exercise that feels manageable for you during this stressful time. Walking is low-intensity and can help you organise your thoughts and put things into perspective. The key point is to avoid putting any unnecessary stress on your body with exercise.
7> Support children and young people – flooding can have a big impact on the emotional wellbeing of children and young people. Being displaced may lead them to feel they have a lack of control over their lives and they may be anxious about the future. Try to maintain a routine and continue doing familiar activities if you can, such as stories at bedtime. Where possible, ensure they spend time with their friends and family as this will help to reduce stress and anxiety. Young children may benefit from having a familiar comforter, such as a security blanket or special toy.
8> Access community support groups – many people who experience flooding find their local community to be an important source of practical and emotional support. There may be support groups specifically set up for the flooding or local recovery hubs that you can lean on for additional help.
How to access mental health support:
A study by Public Health England (PHE) found that people who had experienced flooding were more likely to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders – such as general anxiety disorder and panic disorder – between six months to three years following the event.
Street says, “When a flood occurs, it’s normal to get caught up in the practical tasks due to the immediate devastation and, as a result, it’s easy to overlook how you may be feeling. If you’re concerned or overwhelmed by unhelpful thoughts and negative emotions, if your distress lasts more than two weeks without change, it’s important to seek professional help.”
People impacted by the floods can self-refer, or ask to be referred by a GP, to the NHS Talking Therapies service provided by Vita Health Group. It is a free and confidential service that provides psychological support on a one-to-one or group basis for residents of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland aged 16 and over.
NHS Better Health has advice on how to deal with stress or anxiety, as well as information about where you can access further support.
Samaritans can provide immediate support to anyone in emotional distress or struggling to cope. The Samaritans free helpline is available 24 hours a day on 116 123.