HELPING HAND: Townsville Hospital and Health Service professor of psychiatry Brett McDermott.
HELPING HAND: Townsville Hospital and Health Service professor of psychiatry Brett McDermott.

Mental health check-list

A TOWNSVILLE psychiatrist is leading a major mental health response for children living in Cyclone Debbie-devastated regions.

Children in the Mackay, Proserpine and Whitsunday regions are being screened for mental illnesses including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Townsville Hospital and Health Service professor of psychiatry Brett McDermott is co-ordinating the response, along with Dr Vanessa Cobham from Lady Cilento Children's Hospital.

Prof McDermott said natural disasters could have a significant impact on children.

"Identifying children who may be struggling after major natural disasters is difficult because they generally don't come forward,” he said.

"We are going into the schools with a simple pen and paper survey to screen for children who may be experiencing mental health effects following Cyclone Debbie.

"If the screening returns positive results, we will have mental health workers follow up with a face-to-face with the child and offer further assessment and treatment if required.”

Prof McDermott did similar work after Cyclone Larry in 2006 and at Grantham following the Brisbane floods in 2011.

He said post-Debbie screening had begun and early results were consistent with similar natural disasters, with 10.2 per cent of children showing some signs of anxiety.

Whitsunday Mayor Andrew Willcox said tapping into emotions of children affected by the cyclone might also lead to identifying issues with parents and adults.

"Hard infrastructure like roads, bridges and buildings, you can see the damage and it's easy to fix but, as far as hearts and minds, they're a lot more complex to mend,” he said.

"If we can have someone identify there are some issues, we can give people the help required.”

The response will cost $289,445 and is being funded through the Commonwealth Government.

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