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Many people affected by an emergency will experience some level of distress - though for most this is manageable. Understanding the range of possible emotional reactions that people may feel during the course of a disaster, the potential triggers of certain behaviours and the impact of mental health needs before, during and after major incidents is of great importance in allowing people and communities to manage and recover from stresses.

Ministry of Health  (











While climate change is typified by decadal to century length continual change that isn't sudden or impactful, the probability of extreme climatic events that are impactful, injurious, and damaging will increase, creating potential for stress and anxiety in people. Extreme climatic events can include storms with slips, debris flows and flooding; fire especially in rural communities, drought, sea level and riverine flooding.

Preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and traumatic events is essential to the behavioural health of individuals and communities alike1.

When people experience a disaster, they may experience a variety of reactions, many of which are natural responses to difficult situations. Most people show resilience after a disaster.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back, cope with adversity, and endure during difficult situations. Thankfully, resilience in disaster recovery is ordinary, not extraordinary, and people regularly demonstrate this ability. Using supportive resources to address stress and other hardships is a critical component of resilience1.


Individual resilience is a person's ability to positively cope after failures, setbacks, and losses. Developing resilience is a personal journey. Individuals do not react the same way to traumatic or stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use varying strategies to build their resilience.

Because resilience can be learned, it can be strengthened. Personal resilience is related to many factors including individual health and well-being, factors with and into which a person is born, life history and experience, and social support1.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress3.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone3.

The American Psychological Association (APA) states that resilience has the following attributes:

  • The capacity to make and carry out realistic plans

  • Communication and problem-solving skills

  • A positive or optimistic view of life

  • Confidence in personal strengths and abilities

  • The capacity to manage strong feelings, emotions, and impulse

 There are 10 ways to build resilience (APA):

  1. Make connections

  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

  3. Accept that change is a part of living

  4. Move toward your goals

  5. Take decisive actions

  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery

  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself

  8. Keep things in perspective

  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook.

  10. Take care of yourself.

These are expanded on here.

Family resilience is the coping process in the family as a functional unit. Crisis events and persistent stressors affect the whole family, posing risks not only for individual dysfunction, but also for relational conflict and family breakdown. Family processes mediate the impact of stress for all of its members and relationships, and the protective processes in place foster resilience by buffering stress and facilitating adaptation to current and future events. Following are the three key factors in family resilience (Wilson & Ferch, 2005)(1):

  • Family belief systems foster resilience by making meaning in adversity, creating a sense of coherence, and providing a positive outlook.

  • Family organization promotes resilience by facilitating flexibility, capacity to adapt, connectedness and cohesion, emotional and structural bonding, and access to resources.

  • Family communication enhances resilience by involving clear communication, open and emotional expressions, trust and collaborative problem solving, and conflict management.

The employee resilience research group ( defines employee resilience as "the ability [of employee's] to thrive in a changing environment", which is facilitated by the context, leadership and culture of the organisation -where organisations have a direct role in determining how employees react, cope and perform in response to adverse internal and external pressures or events. The research group recommends that employee resilience is parts of continuity and contingency plans.

The employee resilience tool provides self-assessment, organisational assessment and cross-sector assessments of employee resilience.


Stress is the emotional and physical strain caused by the response to pressure from the outside world. Unfortunately, there is not a universally agreed upon definition of stress, and individuals react differently to stress. What is stressful for one person may be pleasurable or have little effect on others. Stress is not necessarily bad; in small doses, it can help people perform under pressure and motivate them to do their best. But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing damage to health, mood, productivity, relationships, and quality of life1. Further information on stress is available from SAMHSA1:

Dealing with Stress from Disasters - Psychosocial support


After a sudden event  there will be people are worried, anxious, frightened, or just uncertain about their experiences and futures. They will have had damage to property, injuries to themselves and loved ones; including injuries that are physical or non-physical, visible or non-visible2.

What we know from the research is that most people will be ok, especially if they have their usual resources to draw upon - especially their social networks and experience with coping with adversity successfully before in their lives. Others will need more support2.

The Joint Centre for Disaster Research (​Dr Sarb Johal and Robyn Tuohy, Massey University)  developed the following factsheets on deal with stress from disaster:  

Other Resources

Seven extracts from the book : Resilient Organizations: How to Survive, Thrive and Create Opportunities Through Crisis and Change are available as Quickstart guides:

Evaluate your own organizations' resilience

Leading in a crisis

Looking after your people in a crisis

Leveraging your social capital during a crisis

Sensemaking during rapid change

Learning to build the plane while flying it

Other things to watch for 

 Dr. Johal (Joint Centre for Disaster Research) has developed a series of short video presentations.

There are guides on psychological first aid: National Child Traumatic Stress Network - As a App "PFA Mobile"   

Mental Health America has developed a series of Mental Health Screening tools.

The Framework for Psychosocial Support in Emergencies  (PDF) has been developed by the Joint Centre for Disaster Research for the Ministry of Health.

The document is designed to help those involved in planning, coordinating and delivering psychosocial interventions and mental health treatments in an emergency. It is for all agencies, service providers and community groups involved in planning, coordinating and delivering psychosocial support. Supporting individuals, families, whānau and communities to recover from emergencies requires a community-based approach that strives to include community members in all aspects of psychosocial recovery. These aspects include planning and preparedness, assessment of needs, programme development and implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (Civil Defence) website provides official information about preparedness. The ministry leads the way in making New Zealand and its communities resilient to hazards and disasters. The overarching strategy is through a risk management approach of Reduction, Readiness, Response, and Recovery. Some resources are:

This guideline supports and expands on the new welfare arrangements in the National CDEM Plan 2015, and in the Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS). It is intended to be the comprehensive reference for welfare services in an emergency reflecting the elevated status of the Welfare function in emergency management, and capturing the new or expanded roles and responsibilities of various welfare services agencies.

Getting Help

Victim support helps victims and their families to find strength, hope and safety in the face of grief and trauma. Factsheets are:


Rural support trusts are a nationwide network that directly assists rural communities and individuals affected by adverse events. During or after an adverse event, rural support trusts in affected areas may:

  • co-ordinate an initial response to an event or a longer term recovery effort

  • provide mentors or colleagues from rural backgrounds to talk over problems

  • advocate for financial assistance

  • provide stress management services.


Ministry for Primary Industries provide details on when government help can be made available.

Support Contacts

Alcohol Drug Helpline 0800 787 797

Depression Helpline 0800 111 757

Depression Information

Gambling Helpline 0800 654 655

Federated Farmers 0800 FEDFARM (0800 327 646)

Healthline 0800 611 116

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Like Minds Information Line 0800 102 107

Mental Health Foundation

Relationship Services 0800 735 283

Rural Women New Zealand 0800 256 467

Rural Support Trust: 0800 78 72 54 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Youthline 0800 376 633


Foot notes - Attribution of Source:

(1) SAMHSA:  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioural​ health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

(2) Joint Centre for Disaster Research

(3) APA

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