In light of recent bushfire events, we asked our Board member, Tina Philip OAM Mental Health, to provide some information that may help with our own recovery, and to support others.
If you require information to support children who have been affected by bushfires, read the linked article from the Australian Psychological Society . Our Psychologist is available to provide counselling for children and young people - please contact the office for an appointment.
What to expect after experiencing an abnormal and traumatic event
Traumatic events such as the recent bushfires across the state can have a huge emotional and physical impact on individuals and families. Not only those directly involved such as emergency service workers / volunteers, those who have lost their homes / possessions but also those who have witnessed the event first hand, have heard about the disaster or know of those who have been affected can experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms that are difficult to understand and manage.
It is important to remember that everyone’s reaction will vary in intensity and duration as do their needs and supports. A priority initially may be for food, clothing, finances, housing or shelter. Once this is in place people will be more open to emotional or psychological support.
Hopefully this article will give you some reassurance that the experiences you are feeling are not signs of weakness but common reactions to a major trauma.
Normal reactions can be physical, psychological or emotional with common reported signs as follows:
- Sleep disturbance
- Change of appetite
- Tiredness or lethargy
- Susceptible to colds and illness
- Feeling on edge or easily startled
- Increase in alcohol, drug use or overeating
- Shock or disbelief
- Fear and anxiety
- Grief / denial
- Sadness /crying or depressed mood
- Hyper alertness or hypervigilance
- Anger, rage or frustration
- Worrying excessively about the future
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Poor concentration and memory
- Poor self-worth, feeling inadequate or weak
- Feelings of guilt including survivor guilt
- Resurfacing of past traumas
- Believing that the world is dangerous with feelings of doom
These reactions can be triggered by people, places or things associated with the trauma. Again it is important not to avoid this altogether but you may want to limit your exposure to media such as television, Facebook etc.
Remember that your reactions are normal and there are ways to alleviate your distress.
What is helpful
Firstly most people will get through this with the help of family and friends however some may require professional help.
- Talk about the event to empathetic listeners including those who have also experienced the trauma.
- Hug the ones you love and let them hug you (this includes pets).
- Return to your normal routine as quickly as possible. This includes your usual diet and exercise as well as work, education, sport, interests etc.
- Get some sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping try to introduce relaxation techniques.
- Meditation, Yoga and mindfulness are all helpful strategies.
- Ask for support. You are the best judge of what you need at this time.
- Make time for yourself – acknowledge when you need time out and then organise a break. Sometimes 30 minutes can be enough to help recharge and refocus.
- Do normal things, meet friends for coffee, go for a walk, go to the movies.
Lastly, give yourself time. It will take weeks, possibly months to accept what has happened and how to live with it. You may need to grieve.
When to seek professional help
As mentioned previously, family and friends will probably see you through. Many people find that the feelings they experience gradually reduce over time, generally over the first 4 to 6 weeks.
You may need to seek professional help if your feelings are uncontrollable and difficult to bear or they continue for too long.
Where to seek professional help
- Local GPs
- Local hospitals, Moruya 4474 2666, Batemans Bay 4475 1500
- Eurobodalla Recovery Centre at Batemans Bay Soldiers Club
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Mental Health Services 1800 011 511
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
- Private Psychology Services
- Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au)
NB If you or your child/children are already linked with a psychologist or other mental health professional please do not hesitate to contact them.