A New South Wales mayor says not enough is being done to address the issue of mental health in the wake of natural disasters.
Councillor Mark Greenhill, the Mayor of the Blue Mountains, has reported a recent spike in the number of people needing psychological help more than two years after their homes were destroyed in the Blue Mountains bushfires in New South Wales.
And psychologists say communities across Australia are dealing with the same problems.
A recent Blue Mountains council survey found that residents in 41 per cent of the affected households had requested psychological support in the past six months.
Cr Greenhill said people were so busy rebuilding their lives and their homes that they had not had time to sit down and reflect on how the fires had affected them.
“And then there are those who are enduring long-term psycho-social effects. This event is not over for them,” he said.
But Cr Greenhill said the necessary help was not available, and the task of providing support should not just be left to the states and territories.
“One wonders whether a national framework for recovery processes mightn’t be a bad idea.”
Psychologist Bob Montgomery, a former president of the Australian Psychological Society, said the Blue Mountains experience was not unusual; with every disaster like those fires, about 20 per cent of those affected were likely to suffer from serious post-traumatic problems.
“There’s certainly a lack of support because of a lack of understanding,” Dr Montgomery said.
“There are more emergency personnel and more and more psychologists who have had appropriate training.
The owner of a Blue Mountains preschool in the suburb of Winmalee, Joan Murray, said she was still coming to terms with the events of October 2013, when a bushfire came within metres of the building.
“There was a thought that we might all be incinerated,” Ms Murray said.
“And I thought, if we get all the kids in one group and huddle together and the adults lie on top of them, there was a slight chance that one would survive.”
Ms Murray sang to the children to keep them calm before they were evacuated, just in time.
The preschool grounds were destroyed as well as parts of her house next door, and a long journey followed to rebuild her life and her business.
“No agency knocked on our door and said, ‘we’ve come to help you’, so we just took it on board to help ourselves,” Ms Murray said.
“It is hitting in now. And if you’ve been pushing yourself so hard, it’s only once you stop that you have the chance to think, ‘oh my God, we really did come through that’.”
Ms Murray said a class action had also resurrected painful memories, as hundreds of victims take on power company Endeavour Energy with allegations a poorly maintained tree was to blame for the disaster.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 7 March 2016.