Mental health impacts don’t always present straight away
Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) researcher, Dr Natalie Matosin says the impact of the bushfire disaster may not be immediately felt by those affected.
“Firefighters and affected communities are still in the acute phase of the emergency, and the true impact may not be felt until the fire threat is over,” said Dr Matosin.
“Threats to lives and homes from natural disasters are extreme forms of trauma that can cause biological changes in how people respond to stress in the long term.”
Dr Matosin says the biological consequences on people’s health are not very well understood, but accessing counselling and support services is important over time.
“I think we could say that it’s identified that emergency psychological services are needed but there will be a need for ongoing support.
Even with the bravery and resilience of our community it can take years for people to recover from extreme trauma,” added Dr Matosin.
Research being carried out by Dr Matosin at IHMRI aims to investigate how to best intervene and prevent the long term consequences of trauma – from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Right now people are still in an immediate reaction phase and may not realise that they need help. When things settle down that’s when the grief and traumatic reactions like hyper vigilance can set in.”
IHMRI’s Professor Mitch Byrne from UOW’s School of Psychology says the stress following a natural disaster can lead to ‘burnout’, exhaustion and mental fatigue.
“If people are still struggling to get back on their feet emotionally after six weeks they should see a GP and seek support for ongoing trauma counselling.”
“There are numerous resources to assist professional and volunteer counsellors to deliver evidence-based assistance to those affected by the fires. An excellent example is Psychological First Aid: An Australian guide to supporting people affected by disaster.”
Professor Byrne also had some additional advice for children and families that have been displaced during this disaster;
“After the adrenalin of the event slows, children may experience sleep difficulties, they may demonstrate irritable and distressed responses or they may seem overwhelmed.
It’s important to a reassure them that you have a plan in place to keep them safe.”
Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator
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Top Photo: Supplied by Cheryl Jack
Location: Broulee, NSW