Today the findings of ‘Beyond Bushfires’ were released; a six-year study of more than 1000 people impacted by Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, which claimed 173 lives and damaged or destroyed 3500 buildings (2133 homes), in 2009.
The University of Melbourne, including members of CDMPS, led the study with 11 partners including government, primary health care networks and the Australian Red Cross.
The report focussed on the mental health effects of the bushfires on Black Saturday survivors and explored the influence of family, social and community relationships on individuals’ recovery. It confirmed impressive community spirit and uncovered clear evidence that human connection was at the heart of recovery and resilience.
However, many people still suffered significant mental health problems up to 5 years after the disaster. Rates of poor mental health were up to twice the levels you see in populations unaffected by a disaster.
Lead author, Assoc Prof. Lisa Gibbs, of Health Equity and CDMPS at the University of Melbourne, said “We found one of the strongest predictors of wellbeing was strong ties to other people and involvement in social networks and community groups.” Yet, the study found that social ties were also linked to poor mental health outcomes in some circumstances.
Interestingly, the study showed that connection with the natural environment often helped mental health outcomes. In addition, it provided evidence of both the positive and negative mental health effects of staying in a disaster-hit area to rebuild, versus leaving to start somewhere new.
It’s hoped that this knowledge will support recovery and future preparedness, and the report provides a series of recommendations to families, government and service providers.
To find out more, please view the Final Report