A flood of emotions: climate anxiety and trauma in Australia

In the aftermath of devastating climate disasters like Australia’s recent east-coast floods, how do communities – those at the centre of the crisis and those on the periphery – support each other emotionally during times of climate distress?

In this online Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas event, hear from climate emotions experts and residents of Lismore as we grapple with the emotional impacts of climate change. While we’ve known about the mental health impacts of climate disasters for some time now, the loss and trauma that follows floods and bushfires is beginning to intersect with the anxiety of knowing the next disaster may not be so far away.

As these crises mount, professional mental health services play a critical role. Yet local service providers are increasingly being impacted by climate change themselves, reducing their capacity to support communities when they need it most. Join us for a critical conversation combining the latest research and on-the-ground perspectives about how we collectively grapple with the long emergency of the climate crisis.

This event was hosted in partnership with Sydney Ideas and was presented online on Thursday 21 April.

Listen to the podcast


Maddy Braddon is a Lismore resident and community leader whose work focuses on climate justice and building community resilience. She co-founded Lismore Helping Hands (now Resilient Lismore), a grassroots community-led recovery effort after the 2017 flood which was largely successful because of the established Gasfield Free Northern Rivers network. Resilient Lismore, and Maddy, have been at the forefront of the community-led emergency and recovery effort in the Northern Rivers during the floods of 2022.

James Bennett-Levy has lived in Northern NSW for 30 years, and is a Professor at the University of Sydney’s University Centre for Rural Health, based in Lismore. He is a trained clinical psychologist and writes across a variety of domains including: mental health impacts of northern NSW floods, Aboriginal social and emotional wellbeing, neuropsychology, psychotherapy research, and 20 years of theory and research on the training of psychotherapists and other health professionals. You can read about the research of the UCRH team – including James – on the mental health impacts of the 2017 Lismore floods, and James’ insights about how to reduce flood survivors vulnerability to PTSD.

Aiden Ricketts is a resident of North Lismore and was directly impacted by the recent mega flood event in Lismore. Aidan also participated in civilian rescue at the peak of the emergency. Aidan’s usual role is as an author, academic, educator and social change trainer. Aidan most recently has completed a PhD applying complexity ideas to community organisation.

Samuel Savage is a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man who respects, practices, and promotes his diverse cultures to his family and broader communities throughout Australia. He is currently the Northern Queensland Emergency Services Regional Coordinator where he works in the Emergency Services sector with Australian Red Cross at a regional, state & national level. Sam assists in the coordination of community resilience, response, and recovery programs to care for communities with a focus on Psychosocial support.

Jeanti St Clair tells stories through audio, both as documentaries and audio walks. She lives in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and is a lecturer at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia, where she teaches media and journalism. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong and is also an associate producer with Soundtrails. Jeanti created the Lismore Flood Stories project, originally to document the 2017 floods. However, in light of events this year, she has now opened the website to become a portal for all Lismore flood documentation projects with the aim that community, researchers, media and policymakers can better understand the impact of climate disasters on regional communities.

Blanche Verlie is a multidisciplinary social scientist whose work focuses on climate change and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute. Her research investigates how people understand, experience, and respond to climate change, and how we might do this differently and better. Blanche’s work focuses specifically on the ways climate change is felt, lived and imagined, such as the often visceral experiences of climate distress, and the unequal and unjust dimensions of this, as well as how this affective injustice can inspire regenerative forms of climate action.

Header image: Kathie Nichols via Shutterstock ID: 68153113