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More Support Needed for Bushfire Volunteers

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Researchers are warning that more needs to be done to support the long-term mental health and well-being of the families of volunteer emergency workers following bushfires.

A new study ‘After the Fires’ has explored the aftermath of the Black Summer Bushfires in Australia.

A total of 33 lives were lost, more than 3000 homes destroyed, wildlife decimated and more than 20 million hectares of community and farming land and national parks was burnt during the 2019-20 bushfires.

Flinders Professor Sharon Lawn led a qualitative study which involved interviews with volunteers from the Adelaide Hills, Kangaroo Island and other bushfire-affected regions in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. 

Professor Lawn said targeted mental health and well-being resources need to be developed to help the families of volunteers, who are often not recognised for the important support they provide.

“One of the most striking findings of this study was how much mental health support family members provide in the background, with the potential for vicarious trauma for family supporters significant if this goes unacknowledged,” Professor Lawrence said.

She said more financial support should also be offered to volunteer emergency workers who give up a lot to keep their communities safe.

"One guy talked about being the local mechanic and the fire call came and the whole business stopped, so he said that during that extended period, virtually there was not much happening, so you can imagine over the course of a year with an extended fire season of three of four months, the impacts that it has on the percentage of business loss," Professor Lawn said.

The study was conducted by Flinders University and the University of Western Australia with Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA), with funding from a Medical Research Future Fund grant.

Story and photo by Jennie Lenman/ Grant Broadcasters