Expert View: ‘Floods have dramatic emotional and social impact’

Floods damage people’s mental health as well as their property, an expert on human behaviour has warned.

Expert View: ‘Floods have dramatic emotional and social impact’

“As well as causing material disruption and destruction, floods have a dramatic emotional and social impact, said Dr Tim Harries, senior research fellow at London’s Kingston University.

“During a flood, people tend to experience a mixture of fear, disbelief and exhilaration; next comes anger, often followed by exhaustion,” he said.

“By taking away the familiar routines, objects and sights that act as anchors in our daily lives, floods threaten our idea of who we are and our ability to feel safe.”

People who experienced flooding for the first time wanted to believe that it would never happen again, he said. And it was understandable because a home that had always offered shelter was now ridden with sewage and damp.

Because householders were in denial of what had happened, he said, they often failed to prepare for the next flood.

“While the response is a really good coping strategy, flooding is an issue that no one can afford to ignore. Climate change, and its fall-out, such as increased flooding, will happen regardless of any changes in carbon emissions so we need to see how people can learn to adapt,” he said.

However, another response was to look for scapegoats and blame the government.

“Actually admitting that a government can’t or won’t protect us is in itself particularly shocking. That’s all part of the denial that goes on.”

Dr Harries said people needed to accept that they had to take precautionary measures themselves.

“Sandbags are not very effective at keeping water out. You can prepare ahead of time by buying what are called ‘demountable’ barriers that can be put in place when there is a flood.

“You can also make your home more resilient by furnishing it in a way that means it won’t be so damaged.”

Referring to the way people had rallied round to deal with recent flooding, Dr Harries said that was one of the positive consequences of a first flooding.

However, following a flood, people were affected in different ways that usually divided them.

“A lot of people tended to move out of their homes because they are unliveable. So you have a fantastic community response that often fractures for different reasons after a while.”

Dr Harries said people who suffered flooding needed to spend time and sometimes money preparing for the next time the weather threatened their homes.

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