How Bushfires affect mental health

In the event of a bushfire, visit Emergency WA, call 13 DFES (13 3337), follow DFES on TwitterFacebook, listen to ABC Local Radio, 6PR, or news bulletins.

How people are affected by bushfires

The Margaret River and surrounding community has been affected by bushfires.  Whether you were impacted directly in recent events, witnessed them or even watched them on the news, it is normal to experience a range of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that can be intense, confusing and frightening.  

These are common reactions to an extraordinary situation. Fear, for example, is an important and normal reaction that helps activate our body and mind to make decisions to protect our own life and the lives of loved ones, friends and neighbours. It is also normal for the memory of intense fear to stay with us.  Recent events have triggered memories of previous bushfires in our community, for many, it felt like a deja-vu.

After a bushfire, many people deal with memories and ongoing feelings by drawing on their own strengths, as well as the support of others, and will gradually move on with their lives and achieve a sense of wellbeing again.

However, it is also common to have negative feelings and thoughts that result from a bushfire or memories that they bring up as it reminds community of earlier traumatic experiences and loss. 

Being involved in and witnessing disaster can result in a sense of loss of control or feeling overwhelmed, especially for children and young people who are dependent on adults for their safety. 

Adolescent Psychiatrist Brett McDermott has written a piece for Beyond Blue on How to support your child’s mental health during a disaster.

The Emerging Minds’ resource How parents and caregivers can support children immediately after a disaster or community trauma and headspace’s Supporting your child after a natural disaster also offer practical ways parents and carers can support children.

It’s important to know the difference between a common reaction to a stressful or traumatic event and signs that indicate you should seek additional support. 

Beyond a common reaction #

If you experience any of these symptoms at any time, seek help from a GP or mental health professional:

  • a sense that your emotional and/or physical reactions are not normal
  • thoughts of self-harm or of ending your life
  • loss of hope or interest in the future
  • avoiding things that bring back memories of what happened to the point where you’re unable to carry out day-to-day tasks 
  • frequently being easily startled e.g. jumping when a door slams, and then taking a long time to calm down
  • feeling overwhelming fear for no obvious reason
  • panic attack symptoms: increased heart rate, breathlessness, shakiness, dizziness and a sudden urge to go to the toilet
  • excessive guilt about things that were or weren’t said and done.

Impact on businesses and employees #

You may operate a business or work in an affected area, manage employees, or your job means you’re providing services for the emergency response to a bushfire. It’s important to protect your own mental health and be aware of those you work with.