Victorians are being urged to support family and friends affected by the Black Saturday and Gippsland fires as the Royal Commission inquiring into the fires prepares to deliver its final report tomorrow.
Minister for Mental Health Lisa Neville today joined Doctor Rob Gordon, consultant clinical psychologist who has worked closely with survivors of the February 2009 bushfires and said now just as much as ever, communities needed the support of family, friends and the wider community.
“The fires of February 7 were the worst natural disaster in Australia’s history and so many people endured terrible suffering,” Ms Neville said.
“A key priority for our Government has been providing primary health care, counselling, mental health services, grief counselling and psychological support to those affected by the fires with more than 200 specially trained counsellors working on the ground.
“Over the past 17 months, case managers have assisted more than 5,500 individuals and families and today there are still 110 case managers working with more than 1180 households, and that support will continue.
“In the weeks and months after Black Saturday we saw an overwhelming outpouring of generosity from Victorians, Australians and people across the world who have together raised $391 million in the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund.
“Some of those funds have gone towards ongoing psychological support through individual counselling sessions, group sessions for families and support for young people.
“In communities across Victoria, we are seeing positive steps in recovery but we cannot underestimate the distress these fires will continue to have on individuals and families.”
This weekend, Community Hubs will be open on Saturday to offer support and provide access to the Royal Commission report and for those directly affected by the bushfires.
The Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service advice line 1800 050 400 will be open Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm.
Case managers, community service hubs, and general practitioners are able to assist people in identifying the right local service to meet their needs and people seeking advice on mental health services can contact the Mental Health Advice Line 24 hours a day on 1300 280 737.
Dr Gordon has advised the Department of Health on how best to deliver support services after the fires, said the publication of the report may be a distressing time for many people.
“Reports such as this can aid an individual’s recovery by providing much needed information about the event and can help the community learn from it, which are,” Dr Gordon said.
“They can also open wounds and take people back to the event, causing distress and in turn interfere with recovery.”
Dr Gordon said there were a number of ways people could protect themselves, friends and family during this challenging time, including:
- Limit exposure to information and don’t go over the same issues if there is nothing new;
- Think about what is important to you and focus on that;
- Avoid images of the events if you don’t need to see them again;
- Make sure you have people to talk to, who understand and share your experience;
- Try not to rush to blame and judgement; give yourself and others time to digest it all;
- Eat well, rest and exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep and take time out regularly to take your mind off it all together.
“Hard as it may sometimes seem, people do survive and flourish again, but it takes time and attention to the details of your own life. If you feel confused, upset, emotional or despondent, check in with someone who has the training and experience to help you get back on track,” he said.
The Government provided $1.8 million to provide support targeted at psychosocial recovery and with the Federal Government we funded the training of 360 counsellors in ‘Skills for Psychological Recovery’.
The Department of Health has been working with the Trauma Related Mental Health service at the Austin Health to provide specialist mental health services for those people who have been most severely affected by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires.