Counselling for people impacted by bushfires and natural disasters.
It is completely normal to experience a range of emotions if you are directly or indirectly affected by natural disasters. From post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to heightened anxiety and depression, the effects can be long-lasting and life-altering. This article explores the psychological impacts of natural disasters and how psychological therapy can play an essential role in recovery. These may be experienced a months after the actual fire, and may include:
Anxiety and Stress
One of the most immediate reactions to a natural disaster is acute stress. This reaction is not necessarily pathological; it is a natural survival response that heightens awareness and prepares the body for ‘fight or flight.’ However, when acute stress evolves into chronic stress, it becomes a problem. Chronic stress manifests as constant feelings of tension and unease and can lead to other mental health issues.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is one of the most severe psychological conditions that can arise post-disaster. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts related to the event. These symptoms can be so intense that they significantly disrupt daily life and functioning.
The loss of loved ones, homes, and a sense of normalcy can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, hallmarks of depression. Those affected may find it difficult to muster the energy to rebuild their lives and may struggle with daily tasks and responsibilities.
Natural disasters can cause social fragmentation. Survivors might withdraw socially as they wrestle with their emotions and circumstances, leading to isolation and loneliness.
Bushfires and Trauma
The mental health impacts of traumatic events like the bushfire crisis can be huge, and long lasting. For people on the front lines, fighting fires or fleeing their homes, the danger is real and visceral. But for those further removed geographically from the fires, breathing smokey air and reading harrowing media reports can also be extremely distressing and triggering.
Everyone in Australia needs mental health support during this difficult time, and we’ve already seen many heartwarming examples of people looking out for each other, in the spirit of mateship.
But we must also remember that the impacts of this crisis will ripple out far beyond this moment. We need robust mental health support to be available not just during an emergency, but also well into the future.
For people with a history of trauma or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this is particularly important. These people can be incredibly resilient in times of crisis, and often step in to help others in need. But after the worst is over, the delayed impact on them can be significant.
Symptoms related to PTSD include:
Bushfire and natural disaster counselling services are available for all residents of Australia, especially directly impacted by fires in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. We’re particularly familiar with the situation that unfolded in Shoalhaven, Merimbula, Bright, Mount Buffalo, Corowa, Beechworth, Batemans Bay, Moruya, Narooma, Cobargo, Bega, Eden, Blackwood, Clunes, Metung and Lakes Entrance.
How Therapy Can Help
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is one of the most effective treatments for conditions like anxiety and depression. It works by helping individuals recognize negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms. In the context of natural disasters, CBT can help survivors process the traumatic event and integrate it into their lives without letting it overwhelm them.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is specifically designed for treating trauma and PTSD. The therapy involves a trained specialist guiding the patient through eye movements while discussing the traumatic experience. This helps in processing the emotional distress associated with the memories.
Sometimes what survivors need most is a safe space to express their emotions. Supportive therapy provides this environment. Here, the focus is on empathy, listening, and providing emotional support rather than a structured approach to tackling specific issues.
The psychological impacts of natural disasters are as significant as the physical damages they cause. These mental health challenges can last long after the immediate crisis has passed. Psychological therapy, ranging from CBT and EMDR to group and supportive therapies, offers various tools to help individuals and communities heal and rebuild. Considering the mental health aftermath of natural disasters as equally important as physical reconstruction is vital for fostering resilient communities that can not only rebuild but thrive.