Mental Health, Wellbeing and Natural Disasters

As we approach the warmer months, so too does the risk of bushfires. As a result of global warming, natural disaster events like bushfires and floods are increasingly likely. There are things that you can do to feel more prepared practically and from a mental wellbeing perspective. 

Traumatic events occur when there is a threat to our safety, or potential for our own life or the lives of others at risk.  A person may experience high levels of emotional, psychological, and physical distress that temporarily disrupts their ability to function normally in day-to-day life. It is normal to have a strong reaction following a distressing event. Over time this reaction usually subsides, as the threat reduces and  as part of the body’s natural healing and recovery process. 

The immediate impact of the fires

During the 2019 bushfires, homes were lost, properties were damaged, businesses were affected, World Heritage Listed forests were lost and livelihoods were put at risk. Life for many people was turned upside down and put on hold. 

There is a bigger impact of bushfires that often goes by unspoken – the mental health impact of disasters. You may be experiencing some of these symptoms now, or you may feel fine now but something may remind you of the traumatic experience and things may get difficult again. High levels of stress over a long period of time can be bad for your health. 

Some symptoms you may experience are: 

  • Feeling upset or tearful most of the time,
  • Behaviour has changed when compared to before the trauma,
  • Difficulty performing normal activities, 
  • Relationship issues (including domestic violence) or isolation from friends and family,
  • Uses alcohol or drugs to cope,
  • Feeling jumpy or worsened sleep pattern,
  • Dwelling on the event or fearful of the future events,
  • Feeling unable to enjoy life; numb or withdrawn,
  • Taking risks, doing dangerous or self-destructive things.

The Huon Valley Health Centre Social Worker Ruth Neumann can help explore these issues with you and help you develop a plan to recover. Or make an appointment with your GP who can also help. 

What you can do to be prepared?

Emergencies can happen at any time, anywhere and without warning. It’s essential to protect yourself, the people you love and the things you value most.

  • Discuss your worries with friends and family
  • Make an appointment to see the Social Worker if you are worried about your mental health or would like help to improve your wellbeing. 
  • Make an emergency plan with your family and practice it. 
  • Make a survival kit checklist so you don’t forget anything important when you are in a hurry – did you know there is a smartphone app? (“get prepared”).  
  • Set aside some emergency cash.
  • Ensure your home is bushfire prepared.
  • Learn new coping skills and relaxation techniques – here are some examples
  • Continue your normal routine by going to work or school. 
  • Continue to look after yourself – eat well, sleep, rest, exercise, enjoyable activities. Listen to your body. 
  • Limit exposure to TV/radio that shows traumatic events (eg. TV news coverage of other bushfires). 
  • Check in on others who you think might be struggling – especially those who are vulnerable: older people, people with a disability or medical condition, people who are diverse in culturally, gender or sexuality. 
  • Sign up to community groups and events being run in the Huon Valley by the Red Cross and TFS. Feeling connected to the community is really important. 
  • Consider home and contents insurance. 

Useful resources: 

Ruth Neumann – Huon Valley Health Centre Social Worker – 0491 201 769

Tas Alert Recovery 

Huon Valley Council

Tasmanian Fire Service 

Red Cross 

Beyond Blue

Back to News