Emotions vary following bushfire trauma
Bushfire survivors should not be embarrassed about feeling a range of strong emotions as they grapple with the enormity of the disaster, a psychiatrist says.
Many survivors may still be in shock and anxiously awaiting news about their property and possessions, Professor Louise Newman from Monash University says.
"Many people will still at this point in time be in a state of real disbelief or shock about what's actually happened," said Prof Newman, the director of the university's Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology.
She said people reacted differently to trauma, with some experiencing quite severe distress while others appeared normal in the face of loss.
Still others felt a sense of relief at having survived, Prof Newman said.
People often wanted to be with others who had been through the same experience, she said.
"It's very important to seek that companionship and support with other people, but not to be overwhelmed and embarrassed by feeling very strong emotions ... because that's part of the whole response, a very normal response to such major, frightening events," Prof Newman told reporters.
She said it was important to quickly identify vulnerable people, such as those with existing mental health problems and children who may need additional support.
"It's very important to think about children ... who may have a very limited understanding of what has actually happened," Prof Newman said.
She said the experience in Victoria following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires had shown that schools could play a pivotal role in identifying and supporting children who may be feeling the effects of trauma.
While some survivors could be very resilient, others could later display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and may require treatment, Prof Newman said.
People who experience ongoing problems with sleeping, relaxing or intrusive memories months after the event should seek counselling, she said.
"Most people recover very well, but if people have concerns ... or find that they are just not able to get back on track, they should certainly seek advice earlier rather than later," Prof Newman said.