Australian Bushfires

This article was contributed by Tina Habota, an APPCIOS member living in Australia. 


Authored on :
28/01/2020by :

Containing Groups

Understanding the Impact

Below, I share some brief views on my reflections following the recent bushfire crisis in Australia and I welcome your comments and thoughts. 

External trauma of any kind has ability to result in persistent distress to the inner world of direct sufferers, as well as to those who have vicariously experienced a tragedy. As wildfires continue blazing around the Australian coastline, millions of acres of destruction and devastation are left behind. Throughout this crisis we have seen the people of Australia and countries around the world coming together to offer support. The Australian nation have, however, been outraged by the apparent absence of containment provided by the government – a government that was described as “disconnected” from the extent of the devastation caused by current bushfires. 

I recently came across a document published by the Australian Psychological Society on 'psychological first aid' and found it a helpful resource in thinking about the current events. In the immediate future, those affected by the bushfires are likely to benefit from psychological first aid by promoting a sense of safety, calm, and connectedness. These elements of one’s internal world, however, appear to have been unmet by the government’s response to the current bushfire crisis. In a sense, one might consider these elements of psychological first aid as being parallel to the psychoanalytic view of ‘containment’; both seek to provide a sense of comfort where one’s needs and feelings can be thought about and responded to in a meaningful way. 

A second point I have reflected on is that, together, we need to keep thinking about how best to support those affected by the current crisis in Australia in the long-term. An article published in 2014 found that about three years after the Black Saturday bushfires that killed 173 people and destroyed acres of land, more than 15% of respondents in heavily affected areas experienced PTSD symptoms, 13% reported depressive symptoms, and another 25% were drinking heavily. These figures are an important reminder that reconstruction of the Australian nation following the current bushfire crisis will be a lengthy process, not just months, but years – both in physical terms and in psychological recovery. We are likely to see a continued rise in eco-anxiety, which I would encourage us to keep in mind and keep thinking about in our work. 

Tina Habota 

External Resource:

Psychological First Aid: A guide