Free mental health support for communities affected by bushfires
Image: Lithgow LGA, August 2020
The 2019-20 bushfire crisis had a devasting impact on communities across Western NSW. However, free priority mental health support is available now through the Mental Health Support for Bushfire Affected Australians program.
Mental Health Support for Bushfire Affected Australians provides specialist mental health support to individuals, families and emergency service personnel impacted by the crisis.
Chris McAlister, Marathon Health Portfolio Manager says many people have been affected directly or indirectly by the bushfires and the approaching fire season can lead to increased anxiety and stress.
“We’ll be working with GPs and communities to connect people to priority mental health support when and as they need it. It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious after what has happened and to carry those feelings forward as we approach fire season again,” Mr McAlister said.
Often signs of trauma and distress can take months or years to emerge, but it’s never too early to learn how to manage adverse thoughts. The Mental Health Support for Bushfire Affected Australians program connects clients to a qualified mental health clinician in person or over the phone, supporting them to build coping mechanisms and manage mental health concerns.
“The effects of the bushfire crisis will be with us for a while. It’s important that if people need support, they reach out and take advantage of these free services designed for them,” Mr McAlister said.
At this stage in the recovery process, there are signs to be mindful of that might suggest more support is needed. These may include:
- Experiencing flashbacks which can present as sights, sounds or smells
- Avoiding places that remind you of the bushfire
- Feeling numb or detached
- Using alcohol and other drugs to cope
- Feeling overwhelmed or irritable for no particular reason
- Frequently being startled and taking a long time to calm down
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Feeling worried, depressed or anxious
“Locals have been through a lot this year, and are still dealing with extraordinary circumstances. It’s very normal to struggle with difficult thoughts and feelings, just don’t do it alone. Access the support services available,” Mr McAlister said.
People can self-refer into the program by calling 6826 5271 during business hours.
The Mental Health Support for Bushfire Affected Australians program is funded by the Western NSW PHN as part of the Australian Government’s PHN program.