Bushfires and 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.

How you can get support   #

For immediate free counselling and additional support in bushfire-affected communities, there are several options:

Life Line
Dedicated bushfire recovery line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for any person needing support as a result of bushfire.
13 HELP (13 43 57)

Community Adult Mental Health Service (WACHS) Margaret River
Adult mental health provides mental health assessment, diagnostic clarification and treatment.
Adult Community mental health clinic. Referral via Busselton Community mental health team. Triage for referrals via phone call to Busselton.
Phone: 9753 6400
Address: 18 Fearn Avenue Margaret River
Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM
Cost: Free

Rural Link
During business hours you will be connected to your local community mental health clinic.
After hours: Monday to Friday 4.30 PM to 8:30 AM
24 hours Saturday, Sunday and public holidays
1800 552 002

Headspace Margaret River
Supports young people (12- 25 years)
Phone: 6164 0680
Hours: Tuesday 11 AM to 7 PM; Wednesday to Friday 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM
Cost: Free

Relationships Australia 4 Families Program Outreach to Margaret River and Augusta
Focus on mental health of children and young people. Counselling, emotional support, information and referrals, family support workshops Support for grandparents and carers.
Phone: 6164 0600
Hours: by appointment
Cost: Free

GP Down South, Margaret River Community Centre
Free counselling and care coordination for financially and socially disadvantaged clients, maximum 6 sessions.  All ages, no mental health care plan required, for people who self-report financial hardship.
Address: 33 Tunbridge Street
Phone: 9754 3662
Email: mhteam@gpdownsouth.com.au
Hours: Fridays only
Cost: Free

GP Down South, Margaret River Community Centre
Severe and persistent mental illness (over 12-month period). Care coordination. Recovery-focused support. Goal-orientated. See information sheet for more details. Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP) required.
Address: 33 Tunbridge Street
Phone: 9754 3662
Hours: Fridays only
Cost: Free

Support for General Practitioners #

GPs have an important role in supporting those impacted by bushfire disasters, both in the immediate and longer term. Phoenix Australia has developed these resources to support GPs working within bushfire-affected communities.

A complete list of GPs in our community can be found here (link to GP lists).

Other useful links  #

You can find additional information on a range of issues below: