WIMMERA residents are being urged to look after their mental health as Australia's bushfire crisis continues.
Wimmera Primary Care Partnership mental health first aid program co-ordinator Lissy Johns said it was especially important for parents to talk to their children during times of high-stress and trauma.
"The main thing is to stay calm and make sure everyone is aware of the plan," she said.
"It's also important for everyone to have a role, including children and teenagers. Knowing what they have to do can help relieve some of that uncertainty.
"If there's a structure in place, and children understand how to read fire ratings or why there is a fire risk, they will be more ready if the time comes to evacuate."
The Country Fire Authority has developed a new online bushfire safety awareness workshop for people who work in high risk bushfire areas. Ms Johns urged parents to take the course with their children.
"Children might have anxieties and concerns about what to do in an emergency. By doing the course together, children can have a conversation with their parents and it makes them feel more in control," she said.
The bushfire safety for workers CFA course can be accessed on the CFA's website.
Headspace chief executive Jason Trethowan children and teenagers reacted to trauma differently to adults.
"Young people may experience and process the effects of bushfires differently to other members of the community - whether they were directly or indirectly impacted. This is why it's important that tailored, youth-friendly and responsive support is available," he said.
"We recognise that mental health challenges may present down the track when the immediate risk is over, and we want to ensure any young people experiencing a tough time in the aftermath of this disaster know that support is available and that they can get the help they need.
"We are speaking with our headspace centres and Primary Health Networks in impacted areas to determine what they need and how we can best support young people in these communities straightaway, while recognising the critical importance of the local coordination of efforts. What's also vitally important is the longer term plan into the recovery phase."
Mr Trethowan said resources for young people on how to cope with the stress of natural disasters were available on headspace's website. People can contact headspace Horsham on 5381 1543.
Common reactions to disasters
- Feeling overwhelmed, numb or detached
- Constant tearfulness and intrusive memories
- Irritability, difficulty sleeping or dreaming about the event
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope
- Constantly questioning the actions they took during the disaster
Beyond Blue has developed new online information about mental health and bushfires in response to the bushfire crisis.
The bushfires and mental health section contains advice about dealing with the emotional impact of bushfire, information about the signs and symptoms of emotional distress, tips for supporting children and young people, and links to other resources.
"Right now, many people need the basics - shelter, food, water, fuel, cash - and physical safety. Others may be returning to their affected communities," Beyond Blue Chief executive Georgie Harman said.
"These are stressful times and it's important we're aware of how these things can affect our mental health, both in the immediate and longer term.
"Often, signs of trauma and distress can take months and years to emerge but it's never too early to get informed about the difference between a normal and common reaction to disaster, and symptoms that indicate a need for additional professional support."
Ms Harman said people who experienced common reactions to disasters, such as feeling overwhelmed, numb or detached, for more than one month should talk to a GP or mental health professional.
"The mental health impacts of bushfires can emerge within weeks, months or years. Knowing the signs and not ignoring them, and seeking support early is an important step towards managing these issues," she said.
Tips from Beyond Blue:
How to cope with the emotional impact of bushfires
- Spend time with people who care
- Know that recovery times will differ for everyone
- Find out about the impact of trauma and what to expect
- Try to keep a routine and return to normal activities as soon as possible
- Talk about your feelings or what happened when you're ready
- Do things that help you relax
- Set realistic goals
- Review and reward your progress, even small steps
- Talk about the ups and downs of recovery
How to talk to children about traumatic events
- Tell your child these feelings are normal in the circumstances
- Take their concerns and feelings seriously
- Encourage them to speak about their feelings and listen to what they say
- Try to return to regular routines as soon as possible
- Allow children to play and enjoy recreational activities
If you, or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Help on 1800 55 1800 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467; in emergencies, phone 000.
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