Over the past few months, many of us have been affected by the bushfires that are still burning across our country. Be it emergency workers and first responders who've battled the flames, those living in fire affected areas that may have experienced direct loss, or the people that are watching on and inhaling the smoke haze - we've all felt the distress of the bushfire crisis in some way.
Often if you're dealing with upsetting news, it can be helpful to speak to others who are going through the same thing. We reached out to our Peer Ambassadors to ask how the bushfire crisis has affected their mental health, and how they're coping. Here are some of their responses:
"I am currently fortunate to be based in Cairns Australia where we are not directly affected by the fires. However, I have friends who have lost a great deal in the southern states and especially Kangaroo Island.
Given my history with depression and complex mental health, I am aware that I must monitor the amount of news I read and watch and continue to do things that spark joy in my life at this time.
I put great effort to keep my focus on solutions and what I am able to contribute, both through donations and other joint efforts with the community, to help the plight of so many injured wildlife and displaced people. I find it also helps to reflect on the amazing support and donations that have been given by both Australians and so many other people from around the globe. Every day brings new stories of great generosity and human kindness which are truly inspiring and uplifting amongst this catastrophic situation."
"My thoughts on the current situation? That we must hold space for people. I feel dictating how the people impacted should be responding, should be acting, can silence the people who need us to hold space for them the most. I think having these conversations is important, and making sure you recharge and have breathers is also important for your own mental health.
Holding space to me is allowing someone to feel all the emotions they may be going through without judgement and silencing. This allows someone to feel like they have a place, and it allows someone to process/normalise the emotions they may be feeling. This is done by opening conversations and reflectively listening to others.
Having breathers looks like time out from social media, doing something kind for yourself and communicating to others around you that you are feeling overwhelmed from the current situation at hand, and validating that is how you feel as well. I have found myself feeling deflated, anxious and disheartened by the lack of leadership our current government has shown. However, I am able to keep grounded knowing that the peers around me are making sure people's safety is a priority. That’s when the hope comes back alive."
"Bushfires are destructive, unpredictable and incredibly powerful. All of us are subject to it in the same way – vulnerable, and unable to control it, and will always need the help of others to manage and deal with any consequence. I live in the Blue Mountains, and am no stranger to the threat of fire, and as a person living with Complex PTSD, I find that the way that I deal with and manage my illness has some similarities to how I deal with the bushfires.
When these events occur, I ensure that I am informed, that I have a plan in case things get very dire, but most importantly, I reach out and let others know my situation. No-one needs to be alone during these times and while the images can be disturbing and upsetting, it’s really important to try and focus on what you can control, and that at this moment in time, you are safe.
The other amazing thing about bushfires is the regeneration that occurs after they have swept through – not only is it important to stay in the moment and focus on the positives, it’s important to remember that this is one day, that the fear and dislocation is not forever, and that you have the strength and resilience to face the next day."
"Like many people, I was shocked by the intensity of the bushfires in northern NSW when they started in October, but they didn’t impact me personally. When the smoke enveloped Sydney, I felt more affected - I’d been living there for the past five years until recently and had friends there.
When the bushfires started in the Adelaide Hills, it was closer to home - we could see the smoke over the hills from the city. When the fire hit Kangaroo Island, it felt very close to home - I have family there and knew Flinders Chase, where the worst of it was happening.
I grew very anxious, watching the news and checking the alerts app. I was scared for my family and feeling helpless. My two sisters on the island seemed ridiculously unconcerned, which stressed me out even more - how could they not be taking it seriously?
Talking to my mum, she said that my sisters’ lack of panic was probably their way of handling the situation - panic wouldn’t do anyone any good. That made sense - I managed to dial down my own panic by forcing myself to look at it from their perspective. They were sensible adults and wouldn’t take unnecessary risks with their lives.
Thinking back, I can see how things built in intensity over a couple of months, as the fires seemed to creep closer to me personally. I was shocked at the loss of people and wildlife. I’m still shocked but I’m checking my anxiety level to avoid getting wound up again."
"Like all Australians, I have been deeply affected by the scale of devastation that these fires have brought.
My mental illness is often exacerbated by natural disasters, and I can quickly become emotionally overwhelmed, anxious and hyper focused; constantly checking news and reports from the ground, which feeds my illness.
To combat this distress, I limit my exposure through social media and allow myself only one news article per day. I utilise art to help calm me and give my hyper focus something soothing and rejuvenating to work with."
"I volunteer with the SES (State Emergency Service), in the WA State Logistics Unit, so my unit has been involved with all of the large fires over here. It also means that I have deeper insight into the immense amount of work that goes into managing large and complex incidents.
Because I can be called away at any time to assist for up to 10 days in a row, including the potential for interstate deployment, I've felt the need to stay on top of what is going on in relation to all of the fires. I use a model to help monitor my response to these events; where I try to balance my connection to the event, my knowledge of it and my daily function."
Get Support from SANE:
If you (or someone you know) needs support - the SANE Help Centre is open from Monday-Friday, 10am-10pm AEST. Our team of counsellors are available by phone, web chat and email, so you can comfortably communicate in the way that feels best for you.
We can provide you with counselling, support, information and referrals, and we specialise in assisting adults who identify as having a complex mental health issue, complex trauma or high levels of psychological distress.
We also provide support to the family or friends that care about these people.
If you'd like to chat with other people who understand what you're going though, the SANE Forums are online 24/7. There's one Forum for lived experience, and another for family, friends or carers. The Forums are anonymous, and moderated by health professionals, to keep the conversation safe and supportive.