Local News - Victoria

Red Cross warns mental recovery from fires could take years

He said relatives and friends should listen as the survivor talked through their experience.

If, after four to six weeks, people are still struggling, they should see a GP who could refer them to counselling.

Red Cross has a web page with tips about how to look after yourself in a crisis and how to support children.

The Red Cross has sent about 100 volunteers to six relief centres in Victoria – at Omeo, Bairnsdale, Sale, Lakes Entrance, Corryong and Tallangatta and 10 evacuation centres in NSW.

Their main task was providing “psychological first aid” – comforting new arrivals and listening to  their concerns.


But he said it can take years for some survivors to get back on their feet.

“We’d encourage them to talk to people, talk to family, get some exercise and make time for themselves.

“Do some social things, connect with their community again, get back into routines they had before the fires. Try and normalise things as much as possible.”

Mr Coghlan said research that Red Cross did with Melbourne University after Black Saturday had shown that putting survivors in touch with loved ones was important in recovery.

Red Cross volunteers are running a Register. Find. Reunite. database to which displaced people can add their names, contact details and information on where they’re staying so loved ones can find them.

Mr Coghlan said live online streaming of distressing footage could badly affect people doing it tough mentally and they might be better off “not re-exposing themselves”.

Black Saturday survivors, for example, could find the current coverage challenging “because it will bring back memories”.

On the other hand, social media can give instant feedback that loved ones are OK and being cared for, rather than not knowing.

Child psychiatrist Dr Karen Gaunson said that if a child has seen bushfire scenes on the internet or TV, the parents could discuss when and where it happened in relation to where they are.

They could reassure the child they have a plan to keep them safe.

Regarding child survivors of bushfire, Dr Gaunson said it’s normal for them to be distressed for the first week after the event.

Kids affected may experience disrupted sleep and either a “shut down-overwhelmed” response or a more overtly distressed, perhaps irritable and defiant response.

She advised that, if the family is on holiday, parents get the child back into a routine, preferably with familiar people and with activities they enjoy.

If kids choose to talk about what happened, parents could listen and provide comfort.

Dr Gaunson said that if the child has persistent difficulties beyond a week, parents could seek professional support, starting with their GP, particularly if there have been multiple losses and disruptions to family life.

To find loved ones affected by the bushfires go to this site or call Red Cross on 1800 727 077 (Victoria) or 1800 227 228 (NSW).

You can donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery fund here or by calling 1800 733 276. Donations over $2 are tax deductible.

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