Staying healthy and safe after flooding

Coping in the aftermath of a trauma

Experiencing a flood can be frightening, and the activities of normal life can be disrupted. For most people, feeling temporarily distressed does not interfere with their abilities to cope with the process of recovery. However, it is important not to underestimate the stress and strain of being flooded and cleaning up after floods.

Take the time to consider your and your family's mental health and well-being. Do not overdo it when cleaning up, and remember that tiredness, difficulty sleeping and anxiety are normal in these circumstances.

While the experience of a flood can be distressing, events that occur after a flood can also be a source of stress. They include:

  • Difficulties accessing continuing healthcare and prescription medications
  • Difficulties with getting healthcare for new health problems
  • Disruption to normal household activities and separation from family and friends
  • Loss of school facilities and interrupted attendance at school, feelings of loss of control and worry that flooding may reoccur
  • Seeking compensation, recovery and re-building of homes, submitting an insurance
  • Claim, loss of employment and /or income, and loss of physical possessions

While experiencing a flood is distressing, only a small minority of people are at risk of going on to develop further mental health problems. If a person's symptoms persist, they should visit their GP who can help to identify further sources of support.

What you can do

Support from families, friends and neighbours is key to helping to protect people from the negative impacts of flooding on mental health. Getting in touch and staying together with families and friends can help to reduce the suffering and promote recovery of people who are affected. Community groups and interactions with local sources of support, including councils and agencies tasked with helping in recovery efforts, also help to provide support.

If you are helping someone who has been affected by flooding, there are simple techniques that you can use to offer support. These include:

  • First, assess the situation and ensure that a person's circumstances are safe, and help them to make contact with recovery agencies if needed
  • Check that there are no immediate physical health needs, for example those that may require an ambulance or a hospital visit
  • Ask about needs and concerns, and identify if any basic needs are not met, such access to food, water, shelter and medication
  • Help people to contact their loved ones and others who can provide familiar sources of support
  • Help to identify practical ways to address people's needs and access to services
  • Listen, provide information if you have it, and help people to make plans for next steps

It is often useful, before you offer to help, to become familiar with the nature of the flooding event, identify how those affected can access help and whether there are further flood risks in the near future.

It may take some time before you start to feel better and for your life to return to normal. Give yourself time to heal but if you're concerned that things aren't getting better soon enough, talk to your GP.

For more health advice, take a look at the Public Health England guidance on Flooding health advice on the website.

Guidance from Public Health England on mould in your home

Mould and fungal spores are common and we are constantly exposed to these spores as part of normal everyday living. The main key to controlling mould is to control the moisture levels in the environment.

After flooding you may notice mould growing on damp walls. This will stop growing as your home dries out. Heating, dehumidifiers and good ventilation can help dry out your home. Small areas of mould can be removed easily with proprietary mould removal solutions available in hardware stores. If the mould persists or is extensive it may be advisable to contact a specialist cleaner. If you choose to contact a specialist cleaner to help remediate an extensive mould problem, it is important that they have experience in the field of fungal remediation, and follow current guidance44

Most people will not encounter any health problems as we are constantly exposed to mould and fungal spores as part of normal everyday living. However, if you believe that you have extensive fungal growth in your property and that your health might be affected, you should consult your GP. It is important to note that there is medical evidence linking prolonged exposure to high levels of mould with exacerbation of asthma and eye/nose irritation in some individuals.

Copied from - Guidance on Recovery from Flooding. Essential information for frontline responders. Public Health England, 2014, p.32. - Floods: how to clean up your home safely

Water safety

Follow the advice of your local water company regarding the safety of the water supply. If in doubt, boil all water intended for drinking, brushing teeth, washing food and cooking. Thames Water has provided more information on water quality.

Keep your home and possessions safe

If you need to leave your property, make sure that it's left secure to reduce the risk of burglars breaking in. You also need to be careful of doorstep callers who may trick or steal from you. They may try to gain entry by asking to turn off water or check the electricity.

Further information about home security is available from your local Crime Reduction Advisor, who can be contacted by calling 101. For more safety advice, visit the Surrey Police website.

  • Updated: 10 Oct 2014