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Red Cross warns of psychological impact of bushfire anniversaries

30 December 2020

Australian Red Cross is urging communities to be aware of the longer term psychological and emotional impacts of last summer’s bushfires as many approach their 12 month anniversary of the disaster.

“Everyone copes differently, but we know that a year on, it’s very common for people to still be struggling in their personal recovery. For others, new emotions may surface during the anniversary, which is very normal,” says Dr Kate Brady, National Recovery Adviser, Australian Red Cross.

“Disasters can have really profound impacts on people’s lives, and the effects are often felt for many years. There are lots of emotions people can feel after a major crisis, such as shock, numbness, fear, helplessness, anger and frustration.

“For people affected, this is the time to take good care of yourself and we encourage community members to look after each other. Check in with each other, so you’re not braving it alone and seek help if you need extra support.

“Dealing with events like this over the longer term can be stressful, and emotionally and physical exhausting. Red Cross will continue to work with recovering communities, working with other agencies to support bushfire affected communities.”

Dr Rob Gordon, psychologist and Australian Red Cross consultant in disaster recovery, says those in bushfire-impacted communities can prepare themselves and take control during an anniversary.

“Anniversaries are a very important part of creating a sense of history. Putting things into the past helps us to put the present into perspective, allowing us to recover,” Dr Gordon says.

“Some people may feel that they don’t want to think about the anniversary because it’s upsetting. But it’s incredibly difficult to avoid acknowledging anniversaries.

“Make a plan for the anniversary. Be prepared for there to be some emotion. Ask yourself: Who do you want to be there with you on the anniversary, and support you?

“You don’t have to do it alone, if you don’t want to. You might want to have a BBQ or sit quietly by yourself.”

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.

Red Cross is committed to continuing its recovery program, already serving 46 local government areas in four states, for at least two more years, and its teams will help mark anniversaries during this time. Around 17,000 people in those communities have received support through the program, while 5,808 individuals have received financial grants from Red Cross.

Red Cross has now disbursed or spent $201m of the donated $240m since the bushfires. The remaining $39m will be spent on further financial support and long term recovery work: $15m to continue the community recovery program and $24m for final grant payments and to meet unmet needs within bushfire-affected communities, with most of these funds expected to be spent in early 2021.

Find out more at redcross.org.au/bushfirereport

For media queries or interview requests, contact media@redcross.org.au or 1800 733 443