Coping with the emotional impacts of this summer’s bushfire crisis
Red Cross is urging everyone to be aware of the psychological and emotional impacts of this summer’s unprecedented bushfires, which have reached beyond the fire front to impact the lives of all Australians.
“Immediately after a disaster, people may experience a range of thoughts and emotions, like numbness, fear, anger, helplessness and frustration. These are common reactions to an extraordinary event,” says Australian Red Cross’ National Resilience Adviser, John Richardson.
“To help reduce the fallout of these events, it’s important for people to find ways to gain a sense of safety and control. People need a safe and secure place to stay, find out what happened to family and friends, and have access to relevant services.”
Mr Richardson says experience shows that psychological impacts extend beyond those directly affected by a disaster. “People previously effected by fires can have old emotions triggered, those whose homes were outside the fire’s path can experience survivor’s guilt, while visitors who have witnessed the disaster can return to their usual lives across the country carrying traumatic memories.”
“The scale of this disaster seems to have extended those impacts further,” he said. “It feels like the entire nation is traumatised by the event, our sense of safety and security compromised by the seemingly unending disaster unfolding on our screens, even filling the air around us.”
Responding to the unfolding disaster, trained Red Cross teams have been in evacuation and relief centres across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, providing psychological first aid, and in some cases other essentials such as food, water and relief items.
Teams are also reaching out to communities that have been impacted, providing practical and emotional support, connecting people to vital services, and providing emergency grants to people who have lost their homes. Red Cross is operating the Register.Find.Reunite service, helping reconnect loved ones who have been separated by the fires.
As well as these immediate efforts, Mr Richardson says it is important to look to the future, as recovery is a complex process that can take years.
“Many of the emotional impacts of the disaster won’t appear immediately, and some can take a long time to develop,” he says. “Our research with the University of Melbourne on the Black Saturday Bushfires found that after five years, 21 percent of the population were still experiencing serious mental health issues.”
“Dealing with events like this over the longer term can be stressful, and emotionally and physical exhausting. Red Cross will be there throughout this recovery process, working with other agencies to support bushfire affected communities.”
As part of this recovery process, Red Cross offers a range of resources to help people cope with a major disaster, available online at redcross.org.au/recovery.