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Local Leaders | Mental Health: So, what happens after the disaster?

Published: 9 January 2020

It would be difficult for me to write a column this month without referring to the bushfires.

Many in our community are still in the grip of the fire threat, and those who are not are still on high alert.

At some point soon, the fires will stop and we will all start to feel safe - this is when many will feel like they are breaking down.

It will be confusing. You will think to yourself, "But I'm safe now, why can't I stop crying?"

It is because you are safe that you will finally be in a position to be able to stop and relax and cry.

This is a normal response to trauma, and there are many other equally normal responses.

Some people break down right away and can't go on, some people continue stoically forever after, some will block it out, pretend they're fine, then years down the track start seeking help.

There are plenty of other trauma responses that I haven't mentioned too, so don't feel like you're not normal if you've done something different.

The next step is to talk about it, not bottle it up hoping it will go away as the bush begins to regenerate.

Some people are blogging their experience, which is a great help to them and those who read it.

Research supports writing and re-writing (or talking over and over) as a successful way of managing trauma.

Others are planning parties to celebrate the fireys, feeding wildlife, putting water out, supporting those around them.

These are constructive ways of dealing with what happened, providing concrete responses to something we had no control over.

It's also important to involve children, to help them process their trauma.

You might start with, "I'm feeling a bit sad about the fires, how are you feeling about it?"

Try not to completely unburden yourself, as you might find your child stepping into the supportive role, but it is very important that you share your feelings enough to show your children that what they are feeling is okay too.

Ask them what they would like to do with their feelings - they might like to paint about them, or do something to raise money for people who have lost everything, or they might want to talk to you or a counsellor about their feelings.

Then give them some hope for the future, talking about all the wonderful things people are doing to help our land, our wildlife and our people.

If you need to talk to someone about the bushfires and what you are experiencing, please contact me and I can direct you to the right support for you.

Linda is an art therapist and social worker in private practice in the Southern Highlands, NSW and may be contacted for any mental health concerns at linda@highlandsholistic.com.au or on 0438 400 446

Original article published in Southern Highland News - 9 January 2020.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers