Warning for Black Saturday survivors

   Warning for Black Saturday survivors

21 August 2009

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — Trauma psychologists have appealed to Victoria’s bushfire survivors, and the wider community, to band together to help one another through the difficult days of recovery.

They urged people affected by the Black Saturday fires not to retreat into isolation but to reach out and stay in touch with families, friends and other survivors.

”We want to try to encourage people to stay engaged,” said pyschologist Rob Gordon, a consultant with the State Government. In return, the community needed ”to help [those affected] to get things into perspective, to see the positives and so on”.

He added: ”I think there is a valuable message and that is for the rest of the community to realise that this is in some ways a more complex and difficult time for people than earlier on when everything was more clear cut and needs were immediate.”

The plea came after news of the death of a Strathewen man who had been missing for a week. The body of Hendrik (Hank) Vreulink, 60, was found in Tallarook, near Seymour. His death is not being treated as suspicious.

Mr Vreulink, a tree surgeon, narrowly escaped the February 7 bushfires. His wife, Denise, had reported that he had been suffering anxiety in the aftermath of the disaster, which had left 27 dead in Strathewen.

Mr Vreulink is the brother-in-law of CFA volunteer Joe Shepherd, 60, who with son Danny, 32, perished in the fires.

Mr Vreulink’s daughter, Kate, told ABC radio yesterday that the family had noticed ”the spark fading” in her father’s eyes in recent weeks.

”My dad had a terrible illness and that took a hold of his life, and we’ve got no doubt that this was not a conscious, rational decision,” she said.

Dr Gordon said bushfire survivors had been coming out of an initial ”emergency survival mode” and facing the magnitude of difficulties in rebuilding their lives. ”It’s a time when they feel they’ve burnt up all their energy; they are deeply exhausted, emotionally exhausted,” he said.

Paul Valent, a psychiatrist and co-founder of the Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, said people had devoted great energy to reconstruction, ”but there comes a time when the ‘hyper’ peters out … and people find that the ordinary trajectory of their life that they expected a year ago has just gone.

”People’s lives and experience and their expectations have gone.

”It’s either a wound that’s in the process of being healed or it’s a boil that is wanting to come out. So this is a time of coming up against a wall, or of review and reconstruction.”

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