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Mental health support for bushfire recovery

28 Oct 2020

 

Our community was deeply affected by last summer’s bushfires and the recovery is ongoing.

Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District’s Mental Health Bushfire and COVID-19 Trauma Recovery Specialists, Beaver Hudson and Vanessa Brunker, are providing on the ground help with their involvement in two initiatives supporting people impacted in the Lithgow region.

Beaver recently took part in a Men’s Wellbeing Bushfire Recovery event at Olinda NSW near Lithgow, hosted by Step By Step Bushfire Recovery and local community wellbeing agencies.

The event provided an opportunity for men of all ages to meet and share their stories, access a mobile barber, get tools sharpened, try a shoulder massage, have their blood pressure checked and share in a BBQ lunch. 

Beaver was on hand to offer advice and support with emotional wellbeing, using a blood pressure cuff to start the conversation and demonstrate the physical effects of emotional stress.

“Isolated communities impacted by last summer’s fires that resulted in loss of property and stock have taken a toll,” says Beaver.

“With so much work to get done on properties, such as re-fencing, tree felling and property repairs or rebuilding, their focus on health and wellbeing has taken a back seat. Now it’s time for them to look after their wellbeing and to look out for their families and friends who might be doing it tough.”

These events bring people together in a safe space to make connections and reconnect and to have a mental health clinician on hand with information, advice and a professional ear.

Vanessa is participating in community-led working bees manned by volunteers with mental health training. The weekly working bees have been set up to provide the practical support residents need, such as building chicken coops or replanting gardens which will help them to feel better, while also providing other means of wellbeing support.

Vanessa says that for some residents of Bell, recovery has been difficult. Heavily impacted by the fires, many elderly residents have been unable to complete bushfire clean-up of their properties and prepare for the current season.

“This has resulted in a growing anxiety on top of ongoing trauma from the fires. Factors such as age and the practicality of people in rural communities can often prevent people from seeking mental health support,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa shares the story of a resident who has buried 36 animals sincefires destroyed her chicken coop, leaving her animals unprotected from foxes and quolls. Needing support to rebuild her chicken coop, she carries her many chickens and roosters to the house every night for protection. This situation is unsustainable but with help to rebuild provided through the working bees, her chickens will remain safe at night while her overall health is supported.

These initiatives underpin mental health and emotional wellbeing as an integral factor in sustained recovery and keeping communities connected.

Support is available by calling the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.