Australia — A leading trauma specialist has warned that survivors of the Black Saturday bushfires could need support and counselling for decades.
Professor Alexander McFarlane told the Bushfires Royal Commission yesterday that up to one-third of child survivors of the Ash Wednesday fires continued to have traumatic memories 21 years after the event and he warned that Black Saturday survivors could still be asking for treatment in ”five, six, seven, eight years” time.
”There will be constant reminders for these people in their day to day lives. It’s important to keep services in the long term, well after events leave the front page.”
The commission was told this week that 1070 people had so far taken up the State Government’s offer of vouchers for counselling services and that state-run child and adolescent mental health services had registered a 40 per cent increase in demand since February. Much of this was concentrated in bushfire-affected areas, the Department of Human Services’ Margaret Grigg told the commission.
This had put increased strain on the already depleted resources of mental health services in rural areas, she said, particularly in the Shire of Murrindindi, which includes the communities of Marysville, Kinglake, Narbethong and Flowerdale.
Earlier, Professor McFarlane criticised the Government’s plan for responding to trauma among Black Saturday survivors because it ”lacked clarity”. He said the Government needed to map where survivors were or where they had moved to and how many needed help.
The commission heard that Professor McFarlane had been ”immersed” in communities affected by the Ash Wednesday bushfires, which killed 77 people in 1983.
He conducted a long-term study of 800 child survivors over 21 years and found that while their behaviour did not change much in the early months after the fires, two years later they were showing signs of anger, irritability and were more fearful than children from similar backgrounds who had not been exposed.