Disasters put unique strain on mental health services

Mental health services in NSW are under unique strain coping with the challenges brought by bushfires, floods, the rising cost of living and COVID-19.

On New Year's Day this year, Lifeline recorded its busiest day ever, fielding calls from thousands of people anxious about the year ahead.

With service providers crying out for more funding and cohesion across the NSW mental health system, political candidates were grilled on their solutions on Thursday evening in an online forum held by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) NSW Branch.

Animal Justice Party candidate Alison Waters has lived and worked in the Northern Rivers for more than 20 years.

She said many people from Lismore were reaching out to mental health services for the first time in their lives following recent flooding.

"People who were rescued from their ceiling cavities, the people who rescued them, people who saw their animals drown," Ms Waters said.

"People who feel like their sense of security, well-being and their daily routine has been ripped out from under them."

Mental health minister Bronnie Taylor, who said she lost a farm to bushfire, said a better understanding of disaster trauma response had been developed in recent years.

Ms Taylor said she was hopeful that having come out of COVID-19, circumstances would improve for people and more positivity would return, particularly for those in regions where natural disasters have hit hardest.

"I don't mean to use the word unprecedented, but I don't know how you describe otherwise the last few years and what's happened," she said.

Opposition health spokesman Ryan Park said mental health support needed to be part of the planning and response to natural disasters.

"The reality is climate change means we're going to have more challenging weather conditions going forward and we can't just do the same," he said.

"What we have to do is have some in-built mechanisms into these crisis recovery plans.

"And I think some of the challenges and what we've learned needs to be captured so we don't reinvent the wheel again and we actually learn from these instances because we know they're going to be more frequent."

Albury-Wadonga-based GP and Greens Upper House candidate Dr Amanda Cohn said supporting mental health was far more difficult if patients were struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

"Clinicians cannot support people's mental health particularly while they're in insecure housing," she said.

"We need significant investment in public and social housing to reduce those wait lists."