Preliminary research findings into community wellbeing after Cyclone Gabrielle
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PLEASE NOTE: the current research is still ongoing and shared results are preliminary overview only.
In late 2023, SIL Research, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and the All Sorts campaign, developed and initiated a research project to gain insight into the wellbeing of communities affected by the North Island Weather Events, including Cyclone Gabrielle.

This comprehensive research has employed a blend of quantitative methods (such as surveys conducted via phone, mail, and online) and qualitative approaches (including online focus groups, in-person interviews, and community discussions). Its goal is to capture the depth and breadth of the weather events' impacts, engaging with over 1,300 individuals across the affected regions, with a particular focus on Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, and Auckland areas.

The findings revealed significant adverse effects from the extreme weather events of 2023, with notable differences across regions. Over 60% of the participants from Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne reported negative impacts, and more than a third across all areas felt their lives had worsened post-events.
The most common concern, voiced without prompting, was the mental and emotional strain caused by the cyclone.
  1. Specific challenges varied by location; for instance, respondents in Gisborne pointed out disruptions in transportation and a heightened anxiety about future weather events, leading to feelings of isolation. In Hawke's Bay, damage to properties and the financial strain, particularly in Hastings, were highlighted alongside concerns about lost income and the adequacy of compensation.
  2. Interestingly, even among those who did not directly experience the brunt of the extreme weather, two-thirds reported feeling secondary stress. Empathetic distress was prevalent, with individuals expressing sadness and emotional turmoil from witnessing the hardships of others, alongside a mourning for the changes in the landscape due to flooding.
  3. Other significant stressors identified included concerns over red or orange weather warnings, anxiety during rainfall, financial burdens, and increased work pressures.
    The study also noted a distinct difference in subjective wellbeing and psychological distress between those affected by the cyclone and those who were not.
Despite these challenges, there was a silver lining (particularly noted in Hawke’s Bay), where a sense of optimism and strong community bonds shone through. Many participants expressed a belief in their neighbourhood as a desirable place to live, with intentions to remain there for the foreseeable future.
The importance of strong social connections and collaborative efforts was underscored as vital in managing emergencies, with community support, unity, and neighbourly help identified as the most beneficial factors during the extreme weather events.
The main obstacles during these times were issues with communication and information dissemination, infrastructure damage and access problems, a lack of preparedness and coordination, power and telecommunications outages.

These preliminary results highlight the resilience and community spirit in the face of adversity, but also point out areas for improvement in disaster preparedness and response.

The full report, including the findings from the qualitative phase of the research, will be available by the end of April. The results will be used to assist advocacy for affected communities, raise awareness and understanding about the ongoing issues and opportunities, and inform the development of new wellbeing support resources.