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Summer Planning Toolkit modules
Module 4: Mental health
In response to the onset of natural disasters and other emergencies, patients may develop mental health conditions or find their existing mental health conditions exacerbated. The summer holiday period can be a difficult period for some patients, who may suffer anxiety or depression due to social isolation, grieving and / or their financial circumstances. Patients may develop mental health conditions if they are affected by a natural disaster or other emergency 36. Mental health conditions may also be exacerbated by sustained heat, particularly in scenarios where vulnerable patients are not able to find relief through air conditioning and other cooling methods. According to Zhang et al (2018), hot days are a predictor of hospitalisations due to self-harm, and there are associations between higher annual temperatures and elevated suicide rates 37. These issues may be made worse by reduced access to care over summer holidays from December through to the end of January if staff are on leave.
Your practice may wish to organise to have relevant staff trained in psychological first aid. Psychological first aid is usually applicable in the first hours, days and weeks following a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, however, it may also be useful several months or years later due to emotional triggers brought on by the initial traumatic event.
The Australian Psychological Society has collaborated with the Australian Red Cross to develop Psychological First Aid: A guide to supporting people affected by disaster. This resource provides advice on how to respond to the mental health effects following an emergency, including ensuring safety, promoting calm, connectedness and self-efficacy, and instilling hope.
The RACGP has developed the following resources to assist practices in caring for their patients’ mental health:
During emergencies, GPs may need additional support for their mental health care. Please review the GP Support module for information and links to support networks.
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