AUSTRALIA – A federal government contribution of $250,000 will ensure the mental wellbeing of Tathra and Reedy Swamp residents throughout the duration of the bushfire recovery process.
The money has been put into the hands of Coordinare, the South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, to better equip local mental health providers to care for trauma-affected patients.
Liberal Senator Jim Molan announced the funding on April 3 at the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre, currently being used as a bushfire recovery centre.
Having lost his own home in 1980 during the Ash Wednesday fires in Adelaide, Senator Molan said he had some understanding of what the people of Tathra are going through and said it was important to address both the immediate and long-term impacts of trauma.
“The kind of trauma that people have been through may not manifest itself immediately, but over a long period of time,” Senator Molan said.
“It is very important that we take care of the mental health of the people of Tathra and we apply that over the whole period of time that we are looking into.”
Coordinare has engaged with local health providers to understand areas of concern and gather suggestions about how to best spend the funding.
“Let’s not be too specific at the moment, let’s react to what those that are on the front line of this are saying to us,” Senator Molan said.
“What it turns into is going to depend on the feedback the Primary Health Network gets, they interact with the people, they see the problems first hand, and they will be able to make suggestions as to how we can use this money into the future.”
Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain thanked the federal government for their contribution and reminded residents that psychological scars can take time to heal.
“Obviously the physical landscape has changed, we’ve had some funding to deal with the physical landscape and that may be the easy part to tackle, but the psychological scars will take a lot longer,” she said.
“Trauma manifests in a variety of ways, we see a lot of people trying to defer to other people, saying ‘I’m not the worst affected, someone else is’, and it’s generally those people that we want to keep an eye on as well.”
Cr Kristy McBain said feelings of guilt in residents less impacted by the fire may arise in the coming months, bringing mental health complications with them.
“We just have to be mindful that people are going to go through different stages, at different times, in different ways, and however we can help we’ll be here,” she said.
Coordinare’s suicide prevention coordinator Peter Murray said people who are finding it hard to cope in the wake of the bushfire should visit their general practitioner.
“If people have concerns – and those concerns are interfering with the way they generally enjoy and go about their life – talking to a GP is a really good starting point because they are an entry point to lots of other services,” he said.
Cr Kristy McBain said the generous government responses to the Tathra fire had been overwhelming.
“It is nice we have state and federal government funding come in so quickly afterwards and they realise that as a small community, we are hurting,” she said.
“Them being here on the ground and listening has been the best thing so far for us.”