Mouse plague impacting NSW residents’ mental health like that of natural disasters, expert says – ABC News

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Images of the mouse plague that has gripped parts of New South Wales in recent months are enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

But experts are concerned the plague is taking a much more significant toll on those who are living through it, with the mental health impact being compared to that experienced by people during natural disasters including bushfires and drought.

Dr Gene Hodgins, an associate professor from the School of Psychology at Charles Sturt University, said western NSW residents he had spoken to have experienced a number of issues linked to chronic stress.

Dr Gene Hodgins close up image smiling
Dr Gene Hodgins says he’s concerned about the mental health impact of the mouse plague on residents. (

Supplied: Dr Gene Hodgins

)

“They’re talking about problems sleeping, problems relaxing, financial issues because of the impact of the plague on businesses or on farming practices, and lowered mood,” Dr Hodgins told ABC Radio Sydney.

Dr Hodgins said the combined effect of the mouse plague, drought, bushfires, floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on residents.

“For some of these communities that have the mouse plague this is their second, third, or fourth major incident or event,” he said.

“Sometimes it can just be that cumulative stress, where the mouse plague might be something that just tips them over”.

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Norman Moeris’s Gilgandra property has been overrun by mice.(Supplied: Norman Moeris)

Residents doing it tough

Elong Elong resident Louise Hennessy said the mouse plague has made the past few months of her life exhausting.

Mice
The mice Elong Elong resident Louise Hennessy says she collected from one bucket in one night. (

Supplied: Louise Hennessy

)

“It’s tiring, depressing and disgusting … the smell of them makes you feel sick.”

The 61-year-old said she catches and traps at least 1,000 mice a week on her property.

“I have a bucket trap at the front door and in five nights I have drowned in that bucket 583 mice, and that’s just from my front door, without even stepping off my veranda,” she said.

“It’s fatiguing, it weighs you down.”

Louise Hennessy, middle, helps provide counselling services to fellow residents affected by the mouse plague.
Louise Hennessy, middle, helps provide counselling services to fellow residents affected by the mouse plague.(

Supplied: Louise Hennessy

)

Despite her struggles, Ms Hennessy helps provide counselling services to fellow residents as part of her work with the charity Centacare.

“We’ve been out helping communities over a number of years through the drought and we’ve continued to do that now,” she said.

“We go to agricultural shows in a lot of the shires and we do free wellbeing checks … which includes a mental health check.”

Resident Kristy Ashton recently moved to Curra Creek and said mice had been getting into every room of her house.

“There’s probably been times where I’ve been tearing my hair out, feeling really frustrated, and just seem to be cleaning all the time,” she said.

Resident Kristy Ashton on her property
Resident Kristy Ashton says the mouse plague has become inescapable.(

Supplied: Kristy Ashton 

)

Seeking support 

Dr Gene Hodgins said it was important for people feeling the mental health toll of the mouse plague to seek out help.

“One of the most important things people can do is to acknowledge that they’re struggling and to talk about it,” he said.

“Social support is a very important buffering mechanism when it comes to dealing with stressful events.”

Dr Hodgins said while a lack of control over the situation could make residents feel a sense of helplessness, there are coping mechanisms available. 

“One strategy is for people to try and focus on things that they can control — whether that be their relationship, work, or even really small things like looking after the washing or cooking,” he said.

“If people are really struggling, then they should talk to their GP or a mental health practitioner.”

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