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Canberrans resilient during natural disasters


Media Release issued by ACT Government, read the original article here

Two new reports commissioned by the ACT Government have found older Canberrans were emotionally resilient following the 2019/20 bushfires.

The reports examined the mental health and wellbeing of over 1,000 people aged between 59-87 from Canberra and the surrounding regions during the 2020 bushfire season.

They found that while people reported their mental health worsening during the bushfire period, their mental health and wellbeing quickly returned to pre-disaster levels after the bushfires.

Those who did experience poorer mental health outcomes during the bushfires, such as people directly exposed to the fires, still scored on the lower range of mental distress.

Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson said the reports highlighted the importance of Canberrans looking after their wellbeing during stressful events.

“With the recent 20th anniversary of the 2003 bushfires, it is fitting we reflect on the mental health challenges associated with natural disasters such as bushfires,” Minister Davidson said.

“While it is encouraging to see the positive results in these reports for older Canberrans, I cannot overstate how living through a natural disaster, even when you’re not directly affected by it, can have a severe impact on your physical and mental health.

“Following a bushfire event, people are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, trauma, substance abuse and reduced lung function.

“I encourage anyone who is struggling during this time, whether it be from memories of the 2003 bushfire anniversary, or for any other reasons, to reach out to local support services.”

The joint study from the University of New South Wales and ACT Health also found:

  • Women were more likely to experience negative mental health outcomes because of the 2020 bushfires.
  • Experiencing the bushfires led participants to appreciate what and who they have in their lives, as well as those who helped them and others in need.
  • Feeling prepared for natural disasters was associated with better mental and social health outcomes following the bushfires.

The full reports can be read at: https://health.act.gov.au/about-our-health-system/data-and-publications/healthstats/epidemiology-publications

For mental health support services in the ACT, visit https://www.health.act.gov.au/about-our-health-system/office-mental-health-and-wellbeing/need-help

Quote attributable to Dr Elizabeth Moore, Coordinator-General of the Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing:

“Longitudinal research such as this adds to our knowledge as a community, and as planners and deliverers of services.”

“My thanks to all who continue to participate in this valuable research.”

Quotes attributable to Professor Kaarin Anstey, lead of the Personality and Total Health (PATH) Through Life Project, UNSW:

“The reports show the significant impact that natural disasters such as bushfires have on the mental health of our community, but also that most people were resilient and bounced back during the recovery period.”

“We also found that feeling prepared was associated with better mental health outcomes.”