Auckland flooding: Mental health toll worrying experts as flood clean-up continues

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has announced phase two of the city's flood recovery, with officials switching their focus to the big clean-up. 

But while people are being urged to take care of their physical health when doing so, it's what's not so easy to see that has experts worried. 

With Aucklanders heading back to school, parents affected by flooding have a lot on their minds. Maria Tarapu's three children started back at school on Tuesday, but she couldn't focus on that because she was tackling the clean-up job at home. 

"I've got nothing left. My house is empty, I've got no beds, TVs and everything are gone," she said.

Tarapu's already taken three loads to the tip.

"[I've had to throw out] all the kids' clothes and stuff," Tarapu said. "School uniforms and everything are gone - I only just bought those."

In Massey, streets are lined with belongings. Once-loved items are no longer of use after becoming contaminated by floodwaters.

"For anyone that's removing flood-affected materials from their homes ideally should be wearing PPE … gloves, masks, but most importantly, when you finish that work, really good hand hygiene," said Rachel Kelleher, deputy controller at Auckland Emergency Management.

While the impact on our physical health has experts concerned, it's the toll on people's well-being that is extra-worrying.

"I think the longer-term effects of these flooding events are going to be around people's psychological and mental wellbeing," said Dr Jay Harrower, medical officer of health at Te Whatu Ora Health NZ.

Some businesses are stuck in limbo after the flooding. Ibrahim Ismail, who Newshub met last week, has finished his clean-up but is still uncertain about the future as he waits to hear back from his insurance company. 

"No response, no call, we're still waiting," said Ismail, who owns Potters Superette. "We don't know what to do, how am I going to buy my stuff?"

He estimates at least $8000 worth of stock was written off at his dairy in Sandringham. His home next door has also been yellow-stickered. 

But what's worrying him the most is a 50 percent drop in business. 

"No people are coming. People don't want to come inside when they see the sandbags," Ismail said. "Extra burden on my head. I can't think properly."

Dr Kirsty Ross, an associate professor and senior clinical psychologist, said while floodwaters have receded, the mental recovery is far from over. 

"It's important that we keep this in the forefront of people's thinking, because we know from other experiences that people can feel forgotten and left behind," she said.

Auckland Deputy Mayor Desley Simpson agreed.

"There's a free text to a trained counsellor available to 1737," she said. "The other thing I'm conscious of, especially in my community, is there are people who are not used to asking for help."

She's urging them to break that habit because support is out there.