Healing after the fire: ‘Keep space for normal life’

HEALING: Clinical psychologist David Young has extensive experience providing support and assistance to communities impacted by natural disasters. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
HEALING: Clinical psychologist David Young has extensive experience providing support and assistance to communities impacted by natural disasters. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Almost two months on from the March bushfire, and as the rebuilding of homes begins, the psychological wellbeing of those impacted by the disaster is at the forefront of the recovery effort this week.

The tragic Black Saturday fires of 2009 changed clinical psychologist David Younger’s private practice north of Melbourne, thrusting him into the world of disaster recovery, as he witnessed the community around him change.

With the effect the event can have on the body, don’t make big decisions in a rush, don’t use all your energy up, and pace yourself over time.

Clinical psychologist David Younger

Dr Younger visited Tathra and Bega this week to host a string of free wellbeing education and awareness raising sessions for both frontline workers and residents.

“What’s more important than anything else is the relationships between people in the community, people helping and supporting each other,” Dr Younger said.

“It is really very early days [since the fire], people are probably just becoming aware of the event and the impact it will have on their life.”

Dr Younger said while communities differ in their response to natural disasters, sudden behavioural changes can often be a sign an individual is having difficulty recovering from the event.

Much like a physical injury, a persons mental health can become worse over time if not treated, he said.

“Trauma is probably a word we should set aside for a significant injury where people are overwhelmed and struggling to recover. The majority of people do recover,” Dr Younger said.

Most recently Dr Younger worked alongside fire affected communities in south-west Victoria, and following Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall car attack.

“There are still the stereotypical views of trauma, especially with men in remote, rural communities,” he said.

“In general though, the stigma is breaking down and people are seeking help.”

Dr Younger said while badly impacted residents may not attend the sessions, through family and friends they can be linked to the recovery system, and receive follow up visits from professionals.

“With the effect the event can have on the body, don’t make big decisions in a rush, don’t use all your energy up, and pace yourself over time,” he said.

“Keep space for normal life, as routines are really helpful as the predictability offers safety and security.

“You will have to adapt to the changes, but there is an end point and it won’t go on forever.”

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