Natural disasters and families - Drought

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Children and young people's experience of disaster 2020

New South Wales. Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People
Strawberry Hills, N.S.W. : Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People, 2020.
New South Wales has witnessed ongoing drought, a record breaking fire season, and major flooding in 2019/2020. This report looks into the impact of such disasters on children and young people, and shares their views on what supports work best to help them prepare for and recover from these impacts. The project involved focus groups and surveys with 1,400 children and young people aged 5-24 years of age and the development of a Disaster Resilience Framework to provide a common language to discuss disaster related impacts and how they are interrelated. The report concludes with recommendations for disaster preparedness and information provision, local activities, evacuation centres, community recovery, access to infrastructure, practical and financial assistance, access to education, and mental health. The findings highlight both the vulnerabilities and resilience of children and young people in the face of disaster, and the need for more targeted and tailored supports.

In their own words: the hidden impact of prolonged drought on children and young people

Newman S
Sydney, N.S.W. : UNICEF Australia, 2019.
This report provides insights into the impact of drought on children and young people in Australia. It discusses findings from consultations with primary, secondary, and boarding students in Tamworth, Gunnedah, Narrabri, and Walgett, all drought-affected areas of New South Wales, as well as school counsellors, chaplains, principals, and teachers and community service providers. 16 children and 38 young people took part, regarding their life on farms and in rural areas, how daily life has changed since the drought, the impact on their family and community, coping strategies, their thoughts and hopes about the future, and their ideas about what is needed to limit negative impacts and the messages they wished to convey to decision-makers. The findings highlight the significant impacts of prolonged drought on these children and young people, and how they have been forced to grow up prematurely. However, these children and young people are making reasoned, informed, adult decisions on a daily basis and this report encourages governments and policy makers to listen to and consult with these children and young people to help build their resilience and provide support.

Drought-related stress among farmers : findings from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study.

Austin E, Handley T, Kiem A, Rich J, Lewin T, Askland H, Askarimarnani S, Perkins D and Kelly B
Medical Journal of Australia v. 209 no. 4 20 Aug 2018: 159-165
This article investigates stress among farmers in New South Wales, both in general and related to drought, and the factors that influence this stress. Data is taken from the Australian Rural Mental Health Study (ARMHS), for participants identifying as living or working on a farm. It finds that these farmers experience significant stress about the effects of drought on themselves, their families, and their communities, with younger age, financial hardship, and isolation figuring as particular risk factors. The findings also support previous studies that found that drought-related stress may contribute to general psychological distress, but is distinguishable from it.

Lack of association between drought and mental health in a cohort of 45-61 year old rural Australian women.

Powers J, Dobson A, Berry H, Graves A, Hanigan I and Loxton D
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health v. 39 no. 6 Dec 2015: 518-523
There is a long-held assumption that droughts increase mental health problems, but is this actually the case? Using data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, this article investigates the association between drought and mental health for 45-61 year old women living in rural Australia. Particulat attention was paid to the vulnerable sub-populations of women who were more isolated, poorer and less educated and women who had histories of chronic disease or poor mental health. The survey was conducted in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2008, with 6,664 women participating for this age cohort.

In their own words : young people's mental health in drought-affected rural and remote NSW.

Carnie T, Berry H, Blinkhorn S and Hart C
Australian Journal of Rural Health v. 19 no. 5 Oct 2011: 244-248
This article records the drought-related experiences of young people and contrasts these with their teachers' and other adults' observations. Forums were held with children, adolescents, and adults in schools in rural New South Wales, organised under the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program. Participants welcomed increased community connectedness in response to prolonged drought but reported that drought's mental health impact was mainly negative. Adults observed children's distress, wondering if anyone else noticed it. They witnessed young people worrying about their families, increasingly isolated, at risk of harm, unable to obtain help and facing educational and employment limitations. Young people disclosed many mental health and relationship difficulties at school and at home. They worried about their families, communities and futures and about money and being isolated. Adults and young people reported similar effects of prolonged drought on young people's mental health. But, while adults were more concerned with risks to young people (of harm, abuse, homelessness, problems with the law and constrained opportunities), young people were simply overwhelmed, wanting help for their immediate worries. They sought coordinated support within schools, schools working together, more information about mental health and where to seek help for them and their friends, and support people who understood drought and rural circumstances and on whose discretion they could rely. Mental health programs that are developed in and for metropolitan contexts need to be adapted before being deployed in rural settings.

Mental health impact for adolescents living with prolonged drought.

Dean J and Stain H
Australian Journal of Rural Health v. 18 no. 1 Feb 2010: 32-37
This article investigates whether long-term drought has a cumulative effect on adolescent well being. Interviews were conducted with 111 secondary students in Riverina rural region of New South Wales, with further focus groups with 61 of the students on the impact of drought on themselves, their families, and communities. This research reproduces a 2004 study, which showed that though adolescents were aware of the impacts of drought, their emotional distress levels were comparable with their peers from the wider Australian community. However, the new research found significantly higher levels of emotional distress. The article discusses these findings, and the role of rural lifestyle in promoting resilience.

The tyranny of distance? : carers in regional and remote areas of Australia

Edwards B, Gray M, Baxter J and Hunter B
Deakin, A.C.T. : Carers Australia, 2009.
Unpaid care provided by family and friends is invaluable part of a civilised and caring society - even more so in outer regional and remote areas, which feature an increasingly ageing population and a lack of services. This report helps fill in the gap about what is known about these carers, by 1) documenting the geographic spread of carers and identifying the outer regional and remote areas that have the highest concentrations of carers; 2) examining the ability of carers to access services and how this varies according to geographic remoteness; 3) documenting the social, health and economic wellbeing of carers according to geographic remoteness; and 4) investigating the impact of drought on carers. The report found that though the largest numbers of carers resided in the most populous states, as a total proportion of a population, large proportions of carers lived in remote areas in the Northern Territory and very remote areas of Western Australia, and were more likely to be Indigenous in remote and regional Australia and much younger than in other areas. The other findings are discussed, along with methodological issues.

The resilience and mental health and wellbeing of farm families experiencing climate variation in South Australia: final report

King D, Lane A, MacDougall C and Greenhill J
Adelaide : National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University, 2009.
This report explores the resilience, among farm families experiencing drought in South Australia. Two resilience processes were examined: mental health and wellbeing and livelihood. Resilience isn't just about the absence of psychological distress, but about how such distress is managed; nor is it about the capacity to stay on farm, but about the capacity of farm families to maintain a source of livelihood. This strengths-based approach to resilience during drought explored the personal, social and contextual factors enable farm families in drought-affected areas of South Australia to get by; how these factors differed by age, gender and region; and the implications for enhancing resilience among farm families.

Understanding resilience in South Australian farm families.

Greenhill J, King D, Lane A and MacDougall C
Rural Society v. 19 no. 4 Dec 2009: 318-325
Despite prolonged droughts over the last decade across rural South Australia the majority of farmers continue to farm. This research asks the questions, 'what helps them to 'get by'?', and 'does this mean that they are resilient?'. In this study, resilience implies a strengths-based approach to mental health and well being while other drought response programs focus on identifying and responding to problems or deficits. In using resilience to understand mental health and well being in farm families, the authors move beyond the perceptions that resilience is a series of traits or characteristics, which protect an individual from the impact of adversity. Instead, they view resilience as a systemic process embedded in the wider social contexts that enables individuals to make judgements and decisions for themselves, their families and their communities.

Social and economic impacts of drought on farm families and rural communities: submission to the Productivity Commission's Inquiry into Government Drought Support

Edwards B, Gray M and Hunter B
Melbourne, Vic. : Productivity Commission, August 2008
As one part of the Australian Government's National Review of Drought Policy, an economic assessment of drought support measures was undertaken by the Productivity Commission. To support this inquiry, this submission provides preliminary information from the Regional and Rural Families Survey, which includes estimates of the social and economic impact of drought on families in regional and rural Australia. This study involves a survey of 8,000 people living in rural and regional areas of Australia, a large-scale nationally representative sample that allows valid comparisons to be made between drought-affected and other areas. Information is included on community social cohesion and participation, residential mobility, financial wellbeing, household incomes and levels of financial hardship, employment, economic impacts, relationship health and family functionality, and mental and physical health. The submission outlines the key findings and points for policy, and describes the methodology and survey results. Though it is difficult to measure the social and economic impacts of drought, this study shows there are substantial impacts of drought that cannot be ignored.

Social and economic impacts of drought on farm families and rural communities: submission to the Drought Policy Review Expert Social Panel

Edwards B, Gray M and Hunter B
Canberra, A.C.T. : Dept. of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, September 2008
As one part of the Australian Government's National Review of Drought Policy, an assessment of the social impacts of drought on farm families and rural communities was undertaken by an expert panel. To support this inquiry, this submission provides preliminary information from the Regional and Rural Families Survey, which includes estimates of the social and economic impact of drought on families in regional and rural Australia. This study involves a survey of 8,000 people living in rural and regional areas of Australia, a large-scale nationally representative sample that allows valid comparisons to be made between drought-affected and other areas. Information is included on community social cohesion and participation, residential mobility, financial wellbeing, household incomes and levels of financial hardship, employment, economic impacts, relationship health and family functionality, and mental and physical health. The submission outlines the key findings and points for policy, and describes the methodology and survey results. Though it is difficult to measure the social and economic impacts of drought, this study shows there are substantial impacts of drought that cannot be ignored.

The mental health of people on Australian farms : the facts - 2008.

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety
Barton, ACT : Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety, 2008.
"This chartbook provides available relevant data relating to the mental health and wellbeing of the people in agriculture: the changing structure of family farms, the ageing profile of farmers and farm managers, common pressures reported by farmers that are difficult to cope with, available data relating to prevalence of mental health disorders, and suicide data relating to the farming population in Australia."

'Her beauty and her terror - the wide brown land for me!' The individual and family wellbeing of Australian rural and regional families in drought.

Edwards B and Gray M
23 October 2008
The most recent drought has been one of the most severe on record with large parts of southern and eastern Australia experiencing dry conditions since 1996. Moreover, "For the agriculturally important Murray-Darling Basin, however, October 2007 marks the sixth anniversary of lower than average rainfall totals, with the November 2001 to October 2007 period being its equal driest such six-year period on record." While there have been many studies of the impacts of drought, these have mostly focused on the macroeconomic impact or the impacts in very specific sectors or geographic locations. There are very few large-scale surveys that provide a focus on the impact of droughts on the wellbeing of families and communities in rural areas of Australia. It is also important to consider people who are not directly involved in primary production but are potentially negatively impacted upon by the drought. To improve our understanding of the impact of drought on families and communities in rural and regional Australia and the implications for policy, 8000 rural and regional individuals were surveyed between September to December 2007, stratified according to the level of drought in the area. In this paper we describe our the Rural and Regional Families study, outline our definition of drought and then examine the association between drought and individual and family wellbeing. Specifically, we test whether there is an association between drought and financial hardship, employment, mental health problems, the quality of couple and family relationships, community social cohesion and participation in community organisations, and the availability of key services in the area. Differences in levels of financial hardship and mental health across three groups are also tested: farming families, families with a person employed in agriculture and families where no individual is employed in agriculture. We then discuss the implications of these findings.

Control, uncertainty and expectations for the future : a qualitative study of the impact of drought on a rural Australian community.

Sartore G, Kelly B, Stain H, Albrecht G and Higginbotham N
Rural and Remote Health v. 8 no. 3 Jul/Sep 2008: Article 950
Many rural Australian communities continue to endure a prolonged drought. The mental health effects of short-term natural disaster are well known; those of a long-term and chronic natural disaster such as drought are less well understood. However, in addition to immediate distress there are likely to be feelings of loss, grief and hopelessness, all of which are implicated in an increased risk of subsequent psychiatric morbidity. Further more, rural Australia is at a relative disadvantage for early and effective mental health intervention due to a lack of resources, compared with urban Australia. This qualitative research investigates the experience of drought in two farming communities in the state of New South Wales. Farmers, farm and non-farm business people, and health workers took part in focus group discussions of the effects of drought on themselves, their families and their community. In addition to current distress related to financial and workload problems, people reported experiencing significant distress from the emotional impact of environmental degradation, from loss of hope for the future of their community, and from feelings of being misunderstood by the wider Australian community. The stressors affecting farming communities during times of drought are likely to be associated with increased risk of mental health problems.

Country matters: social atlas of rural and regional Australia 2008: drought. Drought in rural Australia: exploring the social impact in three case study regions.

Australia. Bureau of Rural Sciences
Canberra, ACT : Bureau of Rural Sciences, 2008
This companion booklet to the 2008 'Country matters: social atlas of rural and regional Australia' explores the social impact of prolonged drought. It provides case studies of three regions - Central Coast Queensland, the Riverina in New South Wales, and Southwest Western Australia - which illustrate the positive and negative impacts on population growth, agricultural employment, industry diversification, human capital, family life, and community participation. This analysis draws upon the 2006 Census, but other data sources need to be studied to fully appreciate the impacts of drought and plan appropriate support.

Partnerships to promote mental health of NSW farmers: the New South Wales Farmers Blueprint for Mental Health.

Fragar L, Kelly B, Peters M, Henderson A and Tonna A
Australian Journal of Rural Health v. 16 no. 3 Jun 2008 170-175
The severe drought in Australia has worsened the mental health and well being of farm families. One response, in New South Wales, is the creation of the NSW Farmers Mental Health Network, a partnership of service providers, academics, government, private agencies, and the NSW Farmers Association. The Network has developed a model summarising key issues and major actions for mental health promotion: the New South Wales Farmers Blueprint for Mental Health. This article presents the Blueprint and describes its development.

The Big Dry: the link between rural masculinities and poor health outcomes for farming families.

Alston M and Kent J
Journal of Sociology v. 44 no. 2 Jun 2008 133-147
The long-running Australian drought has had significant economic and environmental consequences, not least its impact on water supplies for major cities. What is less well understood are the social consequences affecting the farm families and communities reliant on agricultural production. In this article, the authors focus on the mental health outcomes for farm men, noting that they are more vulnerable to extreme measures such as suicide. The authors argue that a dominant form of hegemonic masculinity in rural areas, which has served men well in good times, allowing them power and privilege, is inherently unhealthy in times of significant stress such as the current drought. The stoicism so typical of normative rural masculinity prevents men from seeking help when their health is severely compromised. The authors argue that attending to the health of rural men during drought requires attention not just to health outcomes but also to hegemonic masculinity.

Climate change, prolonged drought conditions and health : implications for rural Australia.

McMichael T
9th National Rural Health Conference, 7-10 March 2007. Deakin West, ACT : National Rural Health Alliance, 2007: 7 p.
The issues surrounding climate change and its implications for human health are complex. This presentation considers climate, climate change, the possible relationships to drought and the prospects for future climatic conditions in Australia, and their likely effects on public health. The paper provides some background information about the process of global warming, and describes future scenarios, each dependent on factors such as population growth, economic activity and choices in technology. It argues that we must devise ways of adapting to or lessening adverse impacts of climate change in order to lessen the risks to health. The paper discusses the direct impacts of extreme weather events, changes to biophysical and ecological processes, patterns of land use and other factors that cause social, economic and demographic disruptions. The effects of heat related deaths, the range and seasonality of infectious diseases, changes in food production (affecting choices, nutrition and health) are discussed and the effects of prolonged drought are highlighted, together with related adverse health impacts (including mental health and child emotional development) from environmental changes and associated economic and social stresses.

It's really not easy to get help: services to drought-affected families.

Alston M
Australian Social Work v. 60 no. 4 Dec 2007 421-435
The present paper details the results of research conducted with drought affected farm families in New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The study reveals the significant health and welfare stresses experienced by families and the lack of access to services and support. The research was conducted in three sites in rural and remote areas of NSW in 2003. Farm family members, service providers and other community key informants were interviewed. The paper outlines ways that the social work profession can respond to significant natural disasters.

Stone in a pond: the ripple effect of mental health first aid education, on fire- and drought-affected rural communities.

Malone G
Program and papers : 8th National Rural Health Conference : 10-13 March 2005, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Deakin, ACT : National Rural Health Alliance, 2005: 9p
The impact of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) education on fire and drought affected rural communities in north east Victoria is examined in this paper. The paper reports on research that investigated rural participants' perceptions of the impact that MHFA education has had on their roles, relationships and identity as individuals, within their families and in a broader community context. The paper discusses mental health in rural regions, the impact of drought and bushfires on the rural economy and the consequences for stress levels and subsequent mental health issues. It describes the MHFA course, reasons people attended, outcomes and themes of MHFA courses.

Dirt, drought and drudge: Australian women's experience of drought.

Alston M
In: Moore, E. ed. WOW wellbeing of women: conference proceedings: research and practice. Wagga, Wagga NSW: Charles Sturt University, 2004, p71-81, map
Australian women's experiences of drought, particularly the impact on their health, are discussed in this paper. Results from a 2003 survey of the social impact of the recent drought in three regions of New South Wales show that drought is a gendered experience for farm family members. The drought has increased the workload for women on the farm in addition to their off farm, household, care and financial tasks. This increased and multi faceted workload has had an impact on women's health status, from an increase in stress levels to major illnesses.

Welfare and support services for farm families.

Stayner R and Barclay E
Barton, ACT : Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, 2002
During the periodic crises in the farm sector such as those arising from extreme climatic events or commodity price collapse, the acute financial condition of many farm businesses creates stresses that can have severe consequences for the well-being of farm families. This project, undertaken during 1997-98, reviews the experiences of farm families and service providers during the extended drought of the 1990s, and critically examines the current mix of policies, programs and services which address the needs of farm families undergoing stress, in order to propose improvements which would reduce its personal, community and industry costs. Case studies were undertaken in three regions: north-west and central-west New South Wales, and south-western Queensland. The towns roughly at the centre of the regions studied were Roma, Moree, and Condoblin.

Gender and drought: experiences of Australian women in the drought of the 1990s.

Stehlik D, Lawrence G and Gray I
Disasters v. 24 no. 1 2000 38-53
In order to test the hypothesis that disasters are gendered experiences, this study examined the social construction of drought. During the major drought of the 1990s, the authors interviewed over 100 people from farm families in Queensland and New South Wales between 1995 - 1997. Separate interviews of men and women identified themes of difference in how they experienced the stresses and hardship of ongoing drought. The paper focuses on the women's experiences, their changed roles within the home and the farm, and the effect on their marriage and their community.

Drought in the 1990s: Australian farm families' experiences.

Stehlik D, Gray I and Lawrence G
Barton, ACT : Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, 1999
The long term impact of the drought on the consciousness of families and on their relationships with their communities was the focus of a two year study in Central Queensland and the western rangelands of New South Wales in 1995 and 1996. In depth interviews with over 100 producers were combined with policy and media analysis, interviews with key stakeholders and a major literature review. The study developed a social construction of drought based on: stock, water and soil management strategies; family and community relationships; effectiveness of drought policies; individual and family health; and strategies for future recovery.

Drought in the 1990s: Australian farm families' experiences

Stehlik D, Lawrence G and Gray I
Barton, A.C.T. : Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, c1999.
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