Flooding and mental health

Free counselling to flood-hit customers as Zurich UK warns of ‘devastating’ impact of climate-related weather events on mental health

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 23 January 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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As the climate crisis intensifies the frequency and severity of extreme weather, insurer Zurich has announced it will offer free counselling sessions to customers who fall victim to flooding.

Under the initiative, existing policyholders who are forced to make a claim will be entitled to five counselling sessions with a qualified mental health expert. The benefit extends to their immediate families over the age of 18. 

‘The physical impact of extreme weather is impossible to ignore. But there is reason to be concerned about another, ‘hidden’ consequence of the UK’s increasingly destructive weather – the harm it is doing to people’s mental health.

‘For some victims, the psychological toll of flooding is just as devastating as the disaster itself – with the effects lasting long after the waters recede. 

‘With five million people in England at risk of flooding, and climate change intensifying the frequency and severity of extreme weather, a mental health crisis is looming. 

‘We must ensure that mental health – often the silent casualty of flooding – is not forgotten alongside the more immediate priorities to protect people’s lives and property.
 
‘Widespread flooding at this time could be even more catastrophic for UK communities. With the country still in the grip of Covid-19, tens of thousands of people face the double disaster of flooding overlaid by the pandemic. If ever there was a moment to wake up to the mental, as well as the physical devastation caused by flooding, it is now.’

DAVID NICHOLS
Zurich UK’s chief claims officer

Flooding and wellbeing

According to academics at the University of York and the National Centre for Social Research, people whose homes are damaged by storms or flooding are significantly more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Taking into account other factors known to impact mental wellbeing – such as social disadvantage, debt and poor physical health – people hit by storm and flood damage were 50% more likely to experience poorer mental health.
 
David Nichols, Zurich UK’s chief claims officer, has called for the government to act further to reduce the impact of flooding on people and property by overhauling flood resilience grants.

‘With the Prime Minister backing a green recovery, fixing the broken flood resilience grant system would be an effective way to mitigate the emotional impact of extreme weather. 
 
‘Currently, the government only hands out funding for people to install flood resilience measures in their homes after a flooding event.  This is akin to shutting the Thames Barrier after a storm surge. 
 
‘We need to give communities most at risk of flooding a chance to defend their homes before extreme weather strikes.  By making the grants available before, not after a flood, the government could significantly reduce the physical damage from flooding, and the emotional trauma that follows.’

DAVID NICHOLS
Zurich UK’s chief claims officer

Staying safe in a flood

 

If property is at risk of flooding and flood damage, below are some tips to help keep you keep safe and reduce loss to property and possessions.

Indoors

  • Turn off electricity, gas and mains water supplies.
  • Move as many possessions as possible upstairs or into the loft. Smaller items should be removed from the property for safekeeping.
  • Ensure that furniture that cannot be moved is tied down to prevent it from floating and damaging other belongings.
  • Disconnect appliances connected by rigid pipes to the mains supply. This prevents the pipes from snapping if the appliances float off.
  • Block sinks and baths with a weighed down plug as plugs can let in floodwater.

Outdoors

  • Your local authority may provide flood boards or sand bags. They can be used to cover the building’s vents, doors, lower windows and air bricks to reduce the amount of water that gets in.
  • Once the flood has passed, remove all coverings to allow air to circulate as soon as possible.
  • Flow valves for propane gas or oil storage tanks should also be shut off.

Do…

  • Prepare for flooding with a Personal Flood Plan.
  • Keep extension cables out of water and wear rubber boots.
  • Avoid enclosed areas which may not be ventilated and where hazardous fumes may build (e.g. garages and cellars).
  • Call the National Grid immediately if you smell gas or suspect a leak: the number is 0800 111 999.
  • Beware of rogue traders and cold callers who may try to exploit the aftermath of flood-hit areas.

Do not…

  • Walk through floodwater, along river banks or cross river bridges if avoidable. As much as 15cm of fast-flowing water can knock you over and banks or river bridges may collapse in extreme situations.
  • Let children play in flood water or with contaminated belongings.
  • Re-enter your property unless you are sure it is safe to do so.

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