Emerging Minds

Supporting children and families in general practice after a natural disaster or community trauma

About the course

This course is based on the understanding that natural disasters and community trauma can have a profound impact on children’s social and emotional wellbeing, and that GPs are well placed to work with children, parents and families to protect children from the impact of these events.

As you progress through this course, you will be offered practical guides and tips for supporting children and families in the immediate aftermath, the short-term and long-term following a natural disaster or community trauma.

Who is this course for?

This short course is for GPs working with families and children affected by natural disasters such as fire, floods or storms, or by community trauma events. It offers practical guides and tips for supporting children and families in the immediate aftermath, the short-term and long-term following a natural disaster or community trauma.

It has been specifically designed for GPs, and is based on their experiences. It recognises the realities of general practice, the broad context of doctor-patient relationships, and the array of circumstances that GPs work in.

The course incorporates an understanding of:

  • the unique role GPs play in disasters as community members and local health professionals
  • the pressures and complexities that GPs face
  • the challenges of long-term continuity of comprehensive family care.

Learning outcomes

As you progress through this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify ways that natural disasters and community trauma events impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
  • Identify signs and symptoms of psychological distress in children.
  • Determine appropriate resources to provide support to parents and families to help promote the resilience of their children.


GPs are human. Experiencing a disaster personally, and/or being a family doctor in a community that has recently experienced a disaster, can be overwhelming. 

It is important to put boundaries in place to ensure your own safety, and to attend to your own self-care and the care of your family by creating strategies that promote resilience. 

This will enable you to provide effective, long-term healthcare during overwhelming adversities such as disasters. 

Some essential tools for putting in place strategies for self-care include: 

  • being prepared before the event – thinking through the ‘what-ifs’ step by step 
  • understanding personal signs of being overwhelmed 
  • setting prompts that will notify you that you need to pull back 
  • pre-determining how you will pull back, and how you know you will be okay to re-engage 
  • linking into peer supports 
  • engaging in, and prescheduling, regular stress-reduction activities 
  • seeking opportunities to reflect on your experiences with your professional colleagues, including those outside the affected area. 

You will explore specific tips for self-care for yourself later in this course. These are also relevant to your staff and your family. 

You can begin the process of self-care as you work through the course by being aware of your emotional responses. Please seek help if needed. 

Here are some general tips: 

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you feel that you don’t need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later. 
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. 
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course. 

If you find you are struggling please seek help. Visit the RACGP Mental health resources for GPs, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


For the purpose of this course, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Social and emotional wellbeing’ refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths, and is a facet of child development.1

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.2

‘Social and emotional development’ involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy
  • establish and maintain relationships.3




  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009. A picture of Australia’s children 2009. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.

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