For general public

These resources are designed primarily for people affected by an emergency or disaster, or supporting someone who has been affected. These resources will assist people in understanding common stress reactions and help them to cope.
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Common responses after disasters

People who are involved in an emergency or disaster can have a range of emotional, cognitive (thinking), physical (health) and behavioural reactions to the events.

Emotional reactions may include shock, distress, grief, anger, anxiety and depression.

Cognitive reactions may include unpleasant memories, poor concentration, and difficulty making decisions.

Physical reactions may include feeling tense and on edge, as well sleep disturbance, stomach upsets, and general aches and pains.

Behavioural reactions may include irritability, loss of interest in activities, and wanting to be alone.

Thankfully, for most people, these reactions are relatively mild and reduce over the initial days and weeks with the support of family and friends.


The following resources can be helpful in understanding what some of the common responses to disasters are and how to manage them.

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Self-help resources

There are several things that people can do to look after themselves and promote recovery from a traumatic event or situation. People can monitor how they are responding and increase the coping strategies that have worked for them in other stressful situations. These self-help resources can help. 

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Helping children who have been affected by disasters

After a traumatic event, children need comfort, reassurance and support. Children are not always able to express complex feelings in the same direct way that adults do and therefore often do not show the same reactions to stress as adults. It is important to look out for changes in children's behaviour that suggest they are unsettled or distressed.

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Seeking further help

Most people will recover from traumatic events without help from a health professional, but some people may feel they need additional support.

Allied health professionals can provide care and support for people who are experiencing more distressing feelings over a prolonged period of time. Specialist help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional may be needed if a person is experiencing significant distress that does not settle, or if the symptoms are interfering with the person's ability to relate to loved ones or carry out their normal role at home or work.

To get help from a health professional, you can ask your GP for a referral or go through your local community health service.

Signs that someone may need help

There are certain key signs to look for that might indicate that someone needs extra help. If a person:

  • still feels upset or fearful most of the time
  • shows changed behaviour compared to before the trauma
  • can't function in normal activities
  • has worsening relationship issues
  • uses alcohol or drugs to cope
  • feels jumpy or has disturbed sleep
  • keeps dwelling on the event
  • seems unable to enjoy life; numb or withdrawn
  • takes risks, doing dangerous or self-destructive things

they may need some extra help.

Find a general practitioner

General practitioners are a common starting place for people seeking consultation with a counsellor or allied health professional. GPs have information about local allied health professionals.

Find a psychologist

To locate a psychologist in your area, phone the Australian Psychological Society (APS) Find a Psychologist service on 1800 333 497 or visit the website.

Find a social worker

To locate an accredited social worker, visit the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) website.

Crisis help lines

Parentline: 13 22 89

Griefline: 03 9935 7400 (noon to 3am)

Lifeline: 13 11 14

SuicideLine: 1300 651 251 (Victoria only)

Mensline: 1300 789978

Rural Support Line: 1300 655 969

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

Kids Help Line: 1800 551 800

Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT): Contact details of CAT teams providing intensive treatment of mental illness are accessible by phoning the nearest local hospital.

Community health services

Intake services offer counselling plus a range of allied health services. Community health services are aware of the local services available and the role each local government and non-government organisation plays, making them an ideal first point of contact for counselling. Intake officers are trained in assessing the need to refer on to specialist mental health services where appropriate.

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



Western Australia

Grief and loss counselling

Some grieving people may feel the need to seek professional help in the form of counselling. People who are grieving may need to talk about their story over and over again and may not want to rely just on family and friends to provide the support. Counselling can provide a supportive, safe and accepting environment that can help a person to grieve and receive support.