As climate change makes natural disasters, like severe storms, more frequent, we must all attend to what the World Bank terms the ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ costs: mental and substance abuse disorders.
‘The invention of Stormseal was sparked in 2007, when I saw the impacts of a huge hailstorm that hit Sydney – not just physical impacts and financial losses, but terrible mental and emotional suffering, which continued long after the storm was over,’ says Stormseal’s Founder and Managing Director, Matthew Lennox, who managed repairs and reconstruction at the time.
Stormseal is a new, unique, polymer technology for weatherproofing buildings. It’s a strong polyethylene film that heat-shrinks to cover a damaged roof or wall, providing secure protection from wind, rain and hail, and requiring no further intervention until permanent repairs are made.
The lasting disaster: homelessness
The psychological effects of natural disasters are exacerbated by the displacement of disaster victims from their homes, according to studies of people affected by Hurricane Katrina in the US (2005) and Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires of 2009. The social and economic impacts persist for many years.
Hurricane Katrina initially displaced 2.5million people. A year afterwards, 500,000 people were still displaced, some homeless, some living with extended family or friends, or in new homes or temporary accommodation, such as trailer parks. The Black Saturday fires displaced 7,500 people. Two years afterwards, rebuilding permits had been issued for less than half of the 1,795 homes destroyed.
When faced with natural disaster, mental and emotional resilience depend on whether the disaster and its aftermath threaten four basic needs: physical safety, sense of self-worth, sense of control over one’s life, and social connection. Being displaced from home can threaten all of these at once.
‘Stormseal is designed to mitigate psychological suffering by reducing the number of storm victims who experience displacement from their homes and communities,’ says Matthew.
The cascade of loss: home, community, health, hope
Leaving their neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools or day care behind in the wake of a disaster, the displaced are separated from the support of family networks, friends, colleagues and peer groups, while suffering stressors including physical injury and pain, reduced access to normal services, loss of employment, bureaucratic wrangles, legal proceedings, and financial setbacks. They consequently face increased risk of adverse mental health outcomes.
The outcomes include: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; depression; panic and anxiety disorders; problems with sleeping; alcohol and drug use disorders; and persistent, complicated grief involving yearning, bitterness, preoccupation with loss and sorrow, inability to move on and hopelessness about the future. Increased interpersonal conflict and domestic violence also occur.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Over one-third of the children in families displaced by Hurricane Katrina were clinically diagnosed with at least one mental health problem in the five years following the storm, with behaviour disorders being most common.
In high-income countries, the costs associated with mental health are between 2.3 to 4.4% of GDP. The increasing occurrence of catastrophic weather will escalate these costs, along with other financial impacts.
How Stormseal helps
Matthew says ‘In all regions affected by severe weather, Stormseal will enable a faster, safer emergency response and enhanced psychological, social and financial resilience in the aftermath. We have already seen Stormseal dramatically improve outcomes for storm victims many times.
‘Stormseal has multiple advantages over tarpaulins, the traditional alternative. Tarps frequently require replacement, because they leak, tear, blow off, or collapse under the weight of pooling rainwater. Tarp failures cause further trauma to residents and more property damage, so that if it wasn’t already, the building may soon become uninhabitable. In contrast, once installed, Stormseal stays put.’
For example, in 2015, a tornado removed roof tiles from a young couple’s house in Kurnell, NSW. Initially, tarpaulins were used to cover the property, but they failed five times, eventually causing the collapse of the daughter’s bedroom ceiling while she was sleeping. The couple’s insurance company contacted Stormseal for help.
‘Soon after we installed our protective cover, another intense storm hit, but Stormseal kept the home securely weatherproof, allowing the family to resume their normal life. That’s what it’s all about, alleviating the trauma, preventing further damage and enabling people ravaged by storms to get on with life,’ says Matthew.
Around the world, natural disasters are increasingly causing displacement of people within and across national borders. The consequent social disruption and psychological impacts are one of the major challenges facing the human race in the 21st century. Stormseal is ready to rise to the challenge.
- Stormseal allows renters to stay in storm-damaged home
- ‘The impact of housing displacement on the mental health of low-income parents after Hurricane Katrina’ by Fussell and Lowe (2014)
- ‘Legacy of Katrina: The Impact of a Flawed Recovery on Vulnerable Children of the Gulf Coast’ Report by the Children’s Health Fund (2010)
- ‘Lifespan Perspectives on Natural Disasters: Coping with Katrina, Rita and Other Storms’ edited by Katie Cherry (2009)
- ‘The Impact of Natural Disasters on Mental Health’ by Prof. Richard Bryant, Australian Psychological Society (2009)
- ‘Climate Change and Human Wellbeing’ by Larrance, Anastasio and Lawry (2007)