Spike in mental health distress calls since start of bushifre crisis


By Amy Sarcevic
Friday, 21 February, 2020


Spike in mental health distress calls since start of bushifre crisis

Suicide prevention charity Lifeline has received a “sustained spike” in distress calls since the onset of the Australian bushfire crisis in August 2019 and has just launched a purpose-built helpline to support those affected.

The charity — which provides a 24/7 relief service for those suffering acute psychological distress — said that on “tough days”, calls have increased by as many as 250 per day (15%). It is the first time the 57-year-old service has seen a call volume increase of this scale, for a prolonged period.

John Brogden, Chairman of Lifeline Australia, said that those directly impacted by the bushfires are likely to experience a range of symptoms — including anxiety, confusion, insomnia, panic, loneliness and withdrawal. In extreme cases, they may experience suicidal ideation or the desire to self-harm. These are the hallmark symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects 12% of Australians.

Complex trauma specialist and President of the Blue Knot Foundation, Dr Cathy Kezelman, added that even for those who have not been directly impacted by the bushfires, the sense of threat imposed by a nationwide recurring natural disaster will have likely stirred up anxious feelings. Particularly among those with underlying mental health conditions or a history of trauma.

“People living with anxiety, depression, complex PTSD and other mental health disorders can be triggered by situations in which they feel unsafe. When people feel as though their surroundings are under threat, it can challenge their sense of peace, security and wellbeing,” she said.

Lifeline’s purpose-built helpline will serve to not only ensure that an increased number of volunteers are on hand to respond quickly to instances of distress, but also to ensure that specialist advice is given.

“Trauma can be quite complex in nature, and is less well understood than more common disorders like anxiety and depression. Our motivation for the helpline was to ensure that we are supporting victims in the best way we can. This means offering tailored advice and providing the right kind of referrals to meet people’s complex needs,” Brogden said.

“From the calls that have come in, and from our teams on the ground, it’s clear to us that people need to talk through their experience. They also need simple and clear information about what is available to them in their local community when they need it.

“This service will run for as long as people need it. The crisis may be over but the enormity of the recovery is only beginning to hit. Many people won’t experience trauma for months, even years to come. We aim to be there for them 24/7.”

If you have been impacted by the bushfires you can contact the helpline on 13 43 57.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/jamenpercy

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