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Australia's mental health and wellbeing is priority for bushfire recovery

12 Jan 2020

Today the Australian Government announced a $76 million investment to support the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities, including first responders, who have been affected by the devastating bushfires.

The National Mental Health Commission (the Commission) welcomes this national mental health response to the bushfires as essential in supporting Australians during the recovery phases of a natural disaster.

The widespread bushfires have affected the entire nation and will have considerable impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians. Lives have been lost, families have been separated, wildlife completely destroyed in some areas, homes and memories have been lost or damaged, along with people’s businesses and important community infrastructure.

The Commission’s CEO, Ms Christine Morgan, said there has been a clear ripple effect within communities and acknowledged the need for a national coordinated response that addresses the short, medium and long-term recovery phases of a natural disaster.

“This is a particularly distressing time for everyone across the country. We know that the impacts of natural disasters extend beyond the end of emergency, with mental health impacts of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires being felt up to 5 years post disaster for some people. Because of this, it is important that the mental health and wellbeing of Australians is supported immediately, as well as providing ongoing long term interventions” Ms Morgan said.

The funding provided will go towards several initiatives, falling under six elements, to support Australians:

  • Immediate and longer-term support: Immediate free counselling support is being provided for individuals and families in affected communities, including emergency services workers. This will be available at recovery centres, Services Australia centres and existing local centres in fire affected communities, without the need for referral or a mental health care plan. For ongoing support, a newly created set of 10 Medicare rebated psychology therapy sessions will be available for anyone affected by the bushfires, which do not require you to first have a mental health plan or GP referral. Telehealth support will also be expanded to allow people affected by the bushfires to access mental health and wellbeing support services from the location of their choice, particularly those in regional, rural and remote areas who may be unable to travel.
  • Youth services: As well as being eligible for the newly created set of 10 Medicare rebated sessions, additional funding for headspace sites in bushfire affected areas will be provided, so young people can get help when they need it. This funding includes fast tracking and expanding the planned Batemans Bay headspace site.
  • Specialised training: Training in trauma informed care and psychological first aid will be provided for emergency service personnel and organisations managing front line emergency staff to identify and support people at risk.
  • Coordination: Bushfire trauma response coordinators will be deployed within bushfire affected Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to ensure integrated service delivery on the ground. A national cross-jurisdictional mental health framework will also be developed to enable whole of government preparedness for future natural disasters.
  • Community resilience and recovery: Primary Health Networks (PHNs) covering fire affected areas are being funded to expand existing mental health services in fire affected regions to deliver support tailored to community needs, as well as community connectedness and recovery grants to fund activities at a community level to help mental health and healing activities post bushfires.
  • Extra support for emergency services workers: Appropriate organisations will be funded to provide post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support services to emergency services workers and their families. In addition, a new program around developing a mental health literacy and support network will include connecting people to the right mental health services. A national action plan will be developed to lower suicide risk and improve mental health outcomes for emergency services workers.

 “The Commission welcomes this significant investment, particularly the immediate free access to mental health counselling (without the need for GP referral) for those affected. In remarkably distressing times like this, we should expect to feel different. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or sad please reach out for support. It is really important to talk and connect with others. This new investment in counselling and psychological sessions for people affected by the bushfires will both encourage and enable people to seek the help they need, when they need it” Ms Morgan added.

Having access to effective support, care and treatment is the first step to assisting Australians in returning to a contributing life. Recovery will take time, and coordination between local, state and national agencies will be essential in ensuring this national response provides the mental health support and trauma informed care people need.

 “To date, we are seeing incredible strength and resilience across the country with Australians pulling together to support one another. It is clear to see that we are already responding to our neighbours when it comes to physical danger, so let’s encourage one another to reach out for help to maintain and enhance this resilience when it comes to the mental health of individuals and our wider community.”

Media contact: Frank Coletta – 0468 987 295 

For more information about the announcement visit www.health.gov.au.
An FAQ about the announcement and how to access support can be found here: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/emergency-health-management/bushfire-information-and-support/australian-government-mental-health-response-to-bushfire-trauma

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Accessing the immediate free support

If you are in a bushfire affected area and would like to access the immediate free support, visit your nearest recovery centre or a Mobile Services Centre, or contact Services Australia on 180 22 66.
You can also find our more about accessing immediate and additonal mental health supports by visiting: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/subjects/bushfire-recovery-access-program

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Helplines and Resources

If you would like to talk to someone now, you can contact:
Lifeline | 13 11 14 | lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue | 1300 22 4636 | beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline | 1800 55 1800 | kidshelpline.com.au

If you have been affected by the bushfires, you can find mental health support information, disaster toolkits and helplines in the one location: https://www.lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/mental-health-support-for-bushfire-affected-communities