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Byron Shire
October 4, 2023

Mental health support for fire affected communities

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Depression and anxiety can be a serious issue in communities that have suffered a trauma such as a cyclone or a fire.

The recent bushfires in Drake and Tabulam have prompted mental health services to remind individuals and communities affected that support is available.

Rural Adversity in Mental Health Program (RAMHP) mental health nurse, Steve Carrigg, says people can be at an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression after a traumatic event, but help is available.

‘Following any disaster, it is normal for people to feel overwhelmed, worry a lot more than usual, have trouble concentrating and making decisions, and become tearful,’ says Steve.

‘People may also have trouble with sleep or bad dreams, and may experience a loss of appetite. They may start to question their own decisions during and after the event, which is all normal behaviour.’

Carrigg says the knowing what emotional responses to expect, and how to look after your own mental health and support loved ones, can reduce the risk of developing mental health issues in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

‘When these feelings and emotions last more than a few weeks, or people stop doing things they’d usually be doing, that’s where mental health professionals can assist.

‘To reduce the likelihood of ongoing issues after a disaster, spending time with people who care and are willing to listen is one of the best things you can do.

‘Talk about what happened and how it has affected you, talk to others about the ups and downs of your recovery experience to people you trust,’ says Steve.

‘Try to keep to your usual routines and activities as much as possible. Avoid drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, eat healthy foods even if your appetite isn’t great and try to get into a regular exercise routine as well.

‘Disaster recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Go easy on yourself, and know that it’s OK to cry.’

If you or your loved ones are experiencing feelings which are more extreme than usual, help is available.

At the drop in centre at Tabulam Town Hall, people can speak to Disaster Welfare, Red Cross, RAMHP staff or chaplains.

You can also make an appointment with your general practitioner, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, call Beyond Blue on 1300 224636, or visit the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program website at www.ramhp.com.au. Resources are also available to help children who have experienced a traumatic event.

For information about Mental Health services within the Northern NSW Local Health District, call the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.

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