PTSD and the Recent Bushfires
Rural people across Australia have been personally impacted by the recent bushfires. One of the possible impacts of experiencing natural disasters is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and so it was timely that I attended a recent professional workshop on this.
Professor Sandy McFarlane presented on bushfires and the impact on people and remote communities over time. Research has shown that common long-term effects of bushfires can be symptoms of PTSD, and phobia or fear of wind and wind changes. Two other common effects of bushfires can be persistent low mood and generalised anxiety, which is worrying about multiple areas of life. Interestingly, he indicated that people in bushfire affected zones experience only slightly more trauma than the average persons’ accumulated traumas over their lifetime.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is where people struggle to recover after going through a terrifying situation/s. The symptoms can last months or years and triggers (e.g., smell of smoke) can provoke memories of the trauma along with intense emotional and body reactions. Common symptoms are nightmares, recurrent memories, avoidance of places that may provoke trauma, and sensitivities or jumpiness.
It is where traumatic memories stick around as if they are happening in the present that determines outcomes for people. This usually occurs years after the event when people have rebuilt and they start to return to the quiet of life. One of the biggest effects of PTSD over time is social fragmentation; this is where the effects of trauma (e.g. anger, lack of loving feelings, being overwhelmed easily) impact relationships. A once healthy family, can break down.
Professor McFarlane discussed providing timely counselling for people struggling with changes in relationships, energy levels, confidence, behaviour, and body symptoms (such as pain), while not underestimate people’s abilities, self agency, and community resilience. He noted that early intervention is best where people are experiencing trauma symptoms.
Online counselling is more accessible than ever
Online counselling for rural communities is now available through the Better Access Scheme. These tele-health services can be accessed via Counselling Via Video. Importantly, people can recover and this occurs when memories are encoded in the past, where memories are no longer re-lived, where the threat is over, and the body no longer needs to have a protective response. Yoga and mindfulness can also assist to build emotional tolerance, quieten the fight/fight/freeze response and improve executive functioning.
About the author:
Dr Bonnie Sturrock is a scientist-practitioner who has over 15-years of experience working and/or studying in the area of mental health, and has been trained in various forms of psychological therapy with a strong influence on the provision of CBT.