Managing emergencies in general practice

Part C – Mental health in emergencies

Self-care for GPs and practice staff

Last revised: 21 Jan 2020

In a crisis situation, GPs, medical practitioners, mental health nurses, nurses and other health professionals are encouraged to work together to provide essential medical services.

GPs and other health professionals play a pivotal role in caring for and supporting those affected by natural disasters and emergencies. With a large influx of patients requiring assistance within short timeframes, front-line responders tend to overlook their own personal needs for support and instead focus on other people requiring medical attention.

Further, it is important to recognise that in a disaster GPs and other healthcare professionals can be both the victim and the responder.

This can put additional stress on already busy GPs, especially if their own practices, family homes and communities have been affected. The effects of disasters and emergencies permeate both the professional and personal lives of GPs and their practice teams. As health professionals are vulnerable to the same emotional and psychological responses as the public, it is important to be attentive to the challenges.

To be resilient, GPs and other staff in the practice team must acknowledge and address their own psychological needs. The additional demands on GPs and practice teams during this time intensify the need for self-monitoring and self-care strategies that assist with professional resilience. GPs should be attuned to physical and emotional vulnerabilities and attend to pre-existing stressors.

Refer to Box 8 for some suggested self-care strategies that GPs and their practice teams might use to enhance resilience during a crisis situation.

Box 8. Practising self-care

  • Ask yourself:
    • How am I going? – What do I need?
  • Check on your family and friends in disaster-affected areas to ensure their safety – this will help to alleviate potential anxiety and concern for loved ones.
  • Limit your exposure to a tolerable level.
  • Take regular breaks.
  • Accept appropriate assistance offered to allow yourself time away from work.
  • Monitor your own distress level.
  • Notice where you embody stress and attend to your physical needs as much as possible.
  • Maintain good general health with regular exercise, good nutrition and regular sleep habits.
  • Use your personal and family support network.
  • Maintain contact with friends and family, and talk to support people about your experiences and feelings.
  • Increase interaction with professional peers.
  • Engage in activities that balance work and non-work life.
  • Maintain connections with organisations or activities that are meaningful to you.
  • Seek help if needed from:
    • your GP
    • colleagues
    • the RACGP – members have access to additional supports and psychology services – other professional associations.
  1. Commonwealth of Australia. Attorney-General’s Department. Disaster health – Handbook 1. Canberra: Australian Emergency Management Institute, 2011.
  2. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. World Disasters Report 2013: Focus on technology and the future of humanitarian action. Geneva: IFRC, 2013. [Accessed 27 March 2017].
  3. Australian Red Cross and Australian Psychological Society. Psychological first aid: An Australian guide to supporting people affected by disaster. Carlton, Vic: Australian Red Cross, 2013. Australian_Guide.pdf [Accessed 21 March 2017].
  4. Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities. The economic cost of the social impact of natural disasters. Sydney: Deloitte Access Economics, 2016. [Accessed 27 March 2017].
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Patient experiences in Australia: Summary of findings, 2015–16. Belconnen, ACT: ABS, 2016. [Accessed 23 March 2017].
  6. Commonwealth of Australia. Department of Health and Ageing. Review of Australia’s health sector response to pandemic (H1N1) 2009: Lessons identified. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2011. [Accessed 29 March 2017].
  7. NSW Health and University of Western Sydney. Disaster Mental Health Manual 2012. University of Western Sydney: Disaster Response and Resilience Research Group, 2012. Documents/disaster-mental-health-manual.pdf [Accessed 28 March 2017].
  8. Neria Y, Galea S, Norris F. Mental health and disasters. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  9. Bryant R. The impact of natural disasters on mental health. InPsych April 2009. impact_disasters [Accessed 27 March 2017].
  10. Australian Psychological Society. Psychological preparation for natural disasters. Melbourne: APS, 2017. [Accessed 27 March 2017].
  11. Kessler RC, Galea S, Gruber MJ, Sampson NA, Ursano RJ, Wessely S. Trends in mental illness and suicidality after Hurricane Katrina. Mol Psychiatry 2008;(4):374–84.
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