How you can get mental health support during the bushfires

Posted: 9 January 2020 10:27 am
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If you're struggling mentally as a result of the bushfires, we can help you to find dedicated support.

The government announced it is rolling out immediate mental health support that will be available well beyond the end of the bushfire season. This move is aimed at easing some of the considerable mental health burden this unprecedented disaster is inflicting on our communities.

Read on to find some key resources you may need during this difficult time.

How to find support for your mental health

There are a number of mental health resources you can access by phone, online and in person. These include the following:

  • If you are experiencing critical mental health issues, you can visit your GP or nearest hospital. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. If it is an emergency, please call 000.
  • Beyond Blue has also developed a website with information about mental health and bushfires. Access their online chat service for counselling and emotional support.
  • The Red Cross's Prepare your mind campaign includes a range of online resources to help you prepare mentally for an emergency.
  • MensLine Australia offers support for men's mental health issues. Call 1300 78 99 78.
  • Parentline provides counselling and information for families with children. Contact 132 289.
  • Kids Helpline is a 24-hour counselling service for people under 25. Contact 1800 55 1800.
  • SANE Australia runs online, email and phone support. Call 1800 187 263.
  • Head to Health is an online portal run by the government.
  • HealthDirect has guidance on different types of mental health professionals and services, how to access them and the possible associated costs.
  • Advanced Personnel Management is offering free phone counselling to people affected by the disaster on 1800 276 113.

Government services near you

Find support where you live:

  • Victoria. Better Health guide includes a list of useful contacts and local support services. Or call Red Cross on 1800 727 077.
  • Queensland. Get information on emotional support for those affected by bushfires or call the Community Recovery Hotline on 1800 173 349.
  • New South Wales. Call the state's Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511 to get connected to your local mental health service.
  • South Australia. For crisis mental health support, contact the Mental Health Triage Service on 13 14 65. Free counselling support may also be available to you via the Regional Access counselling service on 1300 032 186.
  • Northern Territory. Call the Mental Health Line on 1800 682 288 or visit the Bushfire information portal.
  • Tasmania. Rural Alive & Well is a not-for-profit support service that can be reached on 1300 4357 6283.
  • Western Australia. Call the Crisis Care counselling service on 1800 199 008 or visit the government's online support directory.
  • Visit the Government website for more information explaining their initial $76 million mental health support fund. This includes immediate distress and trauma support, enhanced Medicare and Telehealth services, child and youth mental health assistance and more.

Professional healthcare options

There are many professionals who are trained to treat various aspects of mental illness and can offer you access to support when the right moment arises. These include the following:

  • General practitioners (GPs). Your GP can coordinate the treatment of mild mental health issues by referring you to a psychologist for therapy and/or prescribing medication. Ask about getting a mental health care treatment plan. This could help you to meet the costs of further services you may require.
  • Psychologists. You could visit a psychologist for therapy or counselling. Psychologists can help with almost all mental health issues, from the mildest conditions to the most severe. You can see them without a referral and without needing to be on medication.
  • Psychiatrists. These are medical specialists who are trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders. They take on more severe cases that a GP isn't qualified to diagnose. Psychiatrists can prescribe specialised medication and lay out a treatment plan that may also include therapy.

The Better Access initiative, which was introduced in 2006, gives people improved access to mental health treatments under Medicare. If you require hospitalisation, Medicare will cover you for treatment in a public hospital.

What to do if you're worried about friends and family in the bushfires

Social support is enormously helpful. As well as looking after yourself, it's important to help those around you.

The NSW Ministry of Health says the following people may be particularly vulnerable and should not hesitate to seek help if needed:

  • The elderly
  • People who are isolated
  • People with a pre-existing mental illness
  • People who have a history of trauma
  • People who are experiencing a recent bereavement

According to Beyond Blue, if a person's day-to-day functioning is seriously affected for more than one month after a traumatic event, it's important to discuss this with a GP or mental health professional.

Your employer may be able to help you

You could see if your employer has any confidential professional counselling and resources that you can utilise, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Tips for coping in times of crisis

The Australian Psychological Society has issued some general advice which is based on psychological first aid principles.

  • Don't "bottle up" your feelings; if it feels safe to do so, share your experiences with people who care about you and who you trust.
  • Recognise that you have been through a traumatic experience and give yourself permission to experience a reaction to it. Don't be angry with yourself for being upset.
  • Limit the amount of media coverage you consume, including social media feeds, for periods of time if it is safe to do so and you're not monitoring safety conditions.
  • Avoid overuse of alcohol or other coping mechanisms as this can impede the healing processes.
  • Try to maintain a normal routine – get enough sleep, eat well, structure your day and allow yourself time to rest if you are feeling tired.
  • Remind yourself that things will get better and that you do have the ability to get through this.
Keep up with our Australian bushfires coverage

Resources for those impacted by the Australian bushfires

Picture: Getty Images

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