The floods here in my current home state of Queensland have not yet revealed the full scope of the damage they are causing. Certainly, people can see the loss of lives and property damage. The estimates of what this is going to mean economically are already being made.
But the matter that has not really been touched on, is what this is going to do to people in that most private of places, their minds.
Someone told me this morning that Lifeline (a telephone counselling service) have already had a number of phone calls from people saying they are feeling very distressed and upset about the floods. The person telling me this was contemptuous these people, because none of them were victims, or lived in that area, or had loved ones in those areas. They were simply responding to the news.
At first I was inclined to agree with this perception, but as I thought about it, a more complex understanding came to mind, in part because I have been trying to rationalise my own feelings towards these floods. I am surrounded by flooded areas, but am quite safe in my location, and my friends and family living here are all safe too. Why then, was I feeling so disturbed?
I think, a large part of this can be attributed to the fact that the victims of this event are random. Just a few weeks ago, these people were happily celebrating Christmas, making plans for their lives this year, totally oblivious to what was truly in store for them. Which is perfectly natural, because there was no way to predict this outcome.
Australia considers itself to be a fairly civilised country. When images of similar tragedies have been shown to us, in predominantly third world countries, we have been swift to offer help and support to those afflicted. The average person is only to ready to donate to various funds set up to help those people whose lives had been destroyed. We are a generous people. What we are not, is equipped mentally to deal with this happening to us.
Yes, we have bush fires every year, some of which have been pretty horrible. We have had storms, and cyclones, and small flooding events. But the scope of those have all been relatively small compared to this event.
Today we have a major Australian city, the capital of one of the biggest and wealthiest states in this country, steadily going under water. Yes, the flooding is being managed ( by controlled release of water from the city’s overfull dam), but that doesn’t stop the fact that the CBD is already being inundated, and that private homes are estimated as between 6500-25,000 that will be flooded. Fortunately, the government has been able to evacuate the people in those areas, but that still doesn’t stop the fact that they are all suffering a traumatic event as a result.
A phrase I have heard touted a lot in the last few days is “Aussies are tough; they are resilient; they will bounce back; they will rebuild”. But are we, really? It is one thing for a small community to experience this kind of devestation, and have to be rebuilt, with the rest of the country rallying around…but we are talking about thousands upon thousands of people here, at the very least. Brisbane’s population is a little over two million…how many people there are going to be affected in some way by this event?
And moreover, this is showing the rest of Australia that things like floods and bush fires and other events don’t simply happen in rural/semi-rural areas or remote cities…they can happen in major, capital cities of Australia, and affect countless people. That is a thought calculated to send fear into the hearts of many who thought the worst they had to worry about was another interest rate rise on their mortgage!
I don’t believe Australians are as resilient as we once may have been. I think that is a a fact that has now degenerated into a feel-good myth. We have been too sheltered, too protected, kept in a state of mental childhood, where bad things don’t happen to us. We have not been encouraged to grow and develop into adulthood..and now the price will be paid for that.
I believe that over the next year that many, many people will experience a decline in mental health and wellness simply from witnessing this event. Many more will be suffering more deeply from having experienced the event. Our society is not well-enough equipped to deal with this situation. Simply hearing our politicians and other public speakers praise the average Australian’s resilience is not going to cut the mustard. That is like putting a Band-Aid on a severed artery.
This is a wound that is going to fester for many years to come, because the environment in which the wounded live is not a healthy one.