Recovering after a natural disaster

"Remind yourself daily: This is what I do, this is what I love and this is what I'm proud of." Broken Hill Sheep Station owner, Brendan Cullen in Lifeline's Holding on to Hope podcast.

Natural disasters like drought, bushfires, floods, cyclones and other traumatic ‘natural’ events are extremely challenging for the people directly affected. The stress caused following a natural disaster can lead to ‘burnout’ and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Some people will be able to manage the stress but for others it may be difficult to cope. Most people eventually heal and recover and go on to rebuild their lives.

  • Feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted, or confused
  • Feeling sad, overwhelmed, or angry
  • Shock, feeling ‘numb’
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Feeling lonely, isolated or withdrawn
  • Feeling unwell – headaches, difficulty sleeping, eating, weight loss/gain
  • Resentment or blaming others
  • Increased substance use
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Recovery takes time. It is important to allow yourself time to process your circumstances and regain a sense of normalcy. There are things you can do to heal and rebuild.

  1. Recognise when it’s getting too much - watch out for signs of stress and get extra support when things become overwhelming. Allow yourself extra time to get things done.
  2. Talk - release your emotions and tension by talking to someone you trust. This can help put things into perspective. It’s likely others in your community are experiencing similar feelings so this gives everyone an opportunity to release negative feelings and discuss practical ways to deal with the situation.
  3. Develop an action plan - decide who’s going to do what and when. Summarise your financial situation and discuss your options with your bank to alleviate stress of any financial concerns. Having a plan will help you feel you are making progress.
  4. Take care of yourself - eat well, exercise and sleep. Try to get back to your normal routine when you feel ready. Wherever possible, schedule extra time for things you enjoy or that you find relaxing.
  5. Get help - lean on family and friends. Strong support networks can provide emotional or practical support. Explain your needs and tell them exactly how they can help. Make a list of places to go to for help e.g. financial assistance, emotional support, your GP a helpline like Lifeline.
  6. Consider professional help - If you don’t feel some return to normal after four weeks, seek professional help (earlier if needed).
  1. Give your children extra attention and reassurance. Let them know they are not responsible for what has happened.
  2. Acknowledge your own feelings about the situation and let your children know its ok to share their own feelings.
  3. Include your children in plans for the future.
  4. Try to get back to a normal routine as quickly as possible. This provides a sense of security.
  5. If you don’t see an improvement in 4 weeks, or you’re concerned seek professional help (earlier if needed).
  • Your GP
  • Psychologist/Counsellor

National Resources:



For Crisis Support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24/7) or via text (12pm-midnight AEST) on 0477 13 11 14

Brendan's Story

Everyone knows that rural depression is an issue. But few have considered the issues that cause it.

Farmer Brendan Cullen reached such a dark place he regularly sat in his car shouting at himself or on his bed sobbing.

Today, it’s hard to believe the cheerful sheep station manager from Broken Hill found himself in such pain until he lists the many factors that caused it  - isolation, being on duty 24/7, feeling reluctant to ask for help during drought, dealing with so much animal death he felt numb, constant pressure of new technology, being responsible for “the heartbeats of 10,000 sheep”, and burdening himself with unnecessary pressures.

Here he gifts us with his experience and the strategies he keeps in his 'tool kit' to keep mentally healthy.