D2.2 Building connections for mental resilience in disaster-affected communities


Shannon Harvey
Relationships Australia NSW

Paula Paananen
Relationships Australia NSW

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Time: 2:50pm – 3:20pm

Room: Room 6

D2.2 Across the Lifecourse

Building connections for mental resilience in disaster-affected communities


Over the past three years, communities across New South Wales have faced relentless disaster conditions, from drought and bushfires to the pandemic, and then recurring flooding events. While the evidence is clear that community-level connections are key to surviving and recovering from disaster, many initiatives have ignored community members’ mental health needs. As the climate crisis accelerates, we know that communities across Australia will face increasing climate events, with less time between them to recover. As these events put increasing pressure on relationships, our sector needs to develop responses that put connection at their heart.

This presentation will share findings from Relationships Australia NSW’s (RANSW) partnership work with rural and urban Primary Health Networks to build community members’ capacity to support each other’s resilience in relation to mental health. Paula Paananen will present the Resilience Leaders capacity-building model, including describing the range of place-based, collaborative, community initiatives that leaders have developed in their bushfire and flood-affected communities across north and north-western NSW. Paula will also explain how this project responded to specific target groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, older people, and farmers. Shannon Harvey will present outputs from a community co-design process in Sydney’s northern suburbs, explaining the role of co-design in enabling choice and collaboration, and in identifying the unique needs of urban communities in relation to mental resilience and “natural” disaster. Shannon will explain how this project brought together diverse participants across the lifecourse – from people in their 20s to people in their 90s – and created the conditions to enable connection and participation.

In line with the philosophy of RANSW’s disaster resilience and mental health program, we will integrate interactive, co-design elements in the presentation.


Shannon Harvey is the Head of Research at Relationships Australia NSW.

Paula Paananen is the Disaster Resilience Project Lead at Relationships Australia NSW.