Focus on Mental Health Equally Important as Australian Wildfire Rages On

The wildfires in Australia continue to leave nothing but destruction in their wake. Houses, structures and landscapes have been razed and scorched. Help is coming all around the world in the form of financial aid and helping to put out the fires. However, the damage done is extensive with 24 human lives lost amongst the countless animals that also perished. It will take much time and effort for the area to be reconstructed, both physically and mentally, regarding its inhabitants.

The experience is not only mentally damaging for those who are directly affected, but also those who have read about it or seen it. Natural disasters and climate-change-induced extreme weather fall into this category, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

According to APA, experience of the wildfires leads to grief, stress and fear, but also bursts of depression, mood swings and other psychological factors. Children who are small, are particularly susceptible to this.

The Australian Government has recently got $2 billion for a National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which will look into all aspects of the damage, including ecological and physical restoration as well as psychological support. Fire affected areas have already called for relief funds to help with the rehabilitation of the area.

Places like Australia and California are no strangers to wildfires, and have learned from the experiences. After the Black Saturday fires, the state of Victoria developed a blueprint for guiding post-disaster mental health support. These also had training programs for counsellors in schools with the provision of support groups as well as free counselling services.

However, learning from the past does not come cheap for survivors, as Dr. Joshua Weil, an emergency medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, Calif., saw literal hell run loose when his house was lost to the Tubbs Fire in 2017. And then again, Weil was forced to evacuate this October as his house was in the line of the fire.