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Psych student skills up on flood-related mental health


Content team,
6 June 2022

Earlier this year, as Martine Moore watched the floodwaters rise near her home in Lismore NSW, she worried about the psychological suffering of her community.  

Later, the stories of dramatic flood rescues made Martine concerned about the lasting psychological impact of the natural disaster. The Southern Cross Bachelor of Psychological Science student decided to reach out directly to an expert to ask what action she could take to prevent neighbours and community members from developing mental health issues.

Martine said she immediately thought of American clinical psychologist Professor Steven Hayes, who she had learned about as part of her coursework. Dr Hayes is renowned for developing the therapeutic approach ‘acceptance and commitment therapy’ (ACT), which uses acceptance and mindfulness techniques combined with commitment and strategies to change behaviour in order to improve psychological flexibility.

“Thinking about it in degrees of ADHD, the acceptance and commitment therapy was really helpful in organising the ADHD brain,” Martine said. “I thought, let’s just try it. The  ADHD brain is very similar to a trauma brain because you don’t end up thinking straight.”

Martine said she was surprised when Dr Hayes responded to her email with a personalised message.

“The last thing I expected was a reply email, let alone a personal message. And it was really sweet,” she said.

Dr Hayes said he was very sorry to hear of the suffering in the Northern Rivers and was moved by Martine’s yearning to help.

Dr Hayes recommended Martine use resources from the World Health Organisation, including their publication Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide. The guide provides strategies for stress management and coping with adversity.

Some of the strategies include grounding exercises such as breathing and focusing on your senses, unhooking from negative thoughts and feelings, acting on your values, being kind to yourself and making room for difficult thoughts and feelings.

Martine said she has been using the resources to help the local community recover from the flooding disaster.

“I’ve hugged so many people. They’re just standing there broken. I can see how resilient they are but I don’t know how they do it."

View Doing What Matters in Times of Stress