Bushfires and mental health support
As Australia’s bushfire season continues to break records, the need for mental health support is becoming more apparent.
In NSW alone more than 2240 homes have been damaged or destroyed, with hundreds lost elsewhere in the country, a figure that is likely to increase. More than 6.3 million hectares have been burnt across the country and at least 25 people have died.
As well as the loss of life and the trauma of destruction of fire, the loss of property itself can prove to be traumatic, with psychologists warning that the desire not to appear materialistic can mask the grief of losing a house or treasured possessions.
NSW and ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford has called on those affected by bushfires to seek help and stay connected as the fire season continues. In a video posted on various social media channels, he reminded people of some of the steps that they could take.
“Taking care of yourselves and each other is vital in this time,” Rev. Hansford said.
“In the middle of these fires right now it’s important that we care for each other, pray for each other, keep mindful of each other.”
“It is key to keep connected, to take care of yourself and the people around you.”
Dr Murray Wright is NSW Health Chief Psychiatrist. He recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that those exposed to the bushfires may experience a “range of psychological responses”, and that it was important that they connect with support services.
“People who have experienced loss of property and threat to life require an immediate response including secure shelter, food, support, and in many cases counselling, preferably as close to their community and family as possible,” Dr Wright said.
RMIT Health lecturer James Collett says that it is important to continue supporting friends months and even years after a disaster and to keep an eye out for potentially destructive behaviours such as drinking in order to cope.
Mental health organisation Beyond Blue has developed a website with information about mental health and bushfires.
Visit this page for a full list of available NSW government services.
Advanced Personnel Management is offering free phone counselling to people affected by the disaster on 1800 276 113.
Lifeline is also available on 13 11 14
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor