Mental health support needed for Black Summer bushfire victims

2 Feb 21
by Andy

Mental health support needed for Black Summer bushfire victims

The recent Cherry Gardens bushfire directed our thoughts yet again to the residents and the firefighters battling the blaze.

While Australians are all too familiar with bushfires and the destruction they wreak, it’s vital that we don’t allow familiarity to turn into apathy. Every house lost is someone’s home and every life lost is someone’s child, parent or sibling.

But even those whose lives and properties are spared from the flames can be deeply affected. Research has shown the intense stress and sensory overload of extreme weather events is an intense psychological stressor. Bushfire survivors are often left with weather phobias, anxiety and post traumatic stress syndrome.

This begs the question – how are the victims of the Black Summer bushfires faring?

The COVID pandemic has been so all-encompassing that 2019 seems like a lifetime ago. For those who lost their homes and livelihoods in the 18.6 million hectare blaze it probably feels even longer. Peaking in December 2019 and burning through to February 2020, recovery efforts were only just unrolling before the pandemic brought the nation to a halt.

A full year has already passed and many of those affected by the last bushfire season are likely in greater need of help than ever. They survived one catastrophic event to immediately face another.

Rural & Remote Mental Health is committed to ensuring that these individuals and their communities are not left to deal with the psychological aftermath on their own. We are calling on the federal government to mobilise mental health supports in stricken communities.

While telehealth is a welcome measure for improving accessibility to people in rural and remote areas, it isn’t a cure all. Reliable internet access isn’t a given, especially for people who have lost their homes. As we have noted before, less than 1.5% of remote communities access such services, demonstrating the importance of local support and intervention from within the community and surrounding districts.