Connections to other people are at the heart of the resilience and recovery of survivors of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, according to a landmark study.
The six-year study – led by the University of Melbourne with 11 partners – also found that delayed trauma was common and that it can take five years or longer for it to become manageable.
Maintaining social networks and participation in community groups was key to recovery.
The study is one of the first in the world to look at the longer-term links between mental health and social connection for those surviving natural disasters.
Lead author, Associate Professor Lisa Gibbs, said the research explored family, social and community ties, and how these relationships affected their recovery.
“We found one of the strongest predictors of wellbeing was strong ties to other people and involvement in social networks and community groups,” Dr Gibbs said.
The study found that people who left to build a new life outside their traumatised communities experienced losses and gains.
“While some people were glad to leave behind daily reminders of what they’d gone through, they also missed out on healing alongside people who’d endured the same thing,” Dr Gibbs said.
Researchers also stressed the need to plan for the needs of young children, who have traditionally been overlooked in recovery programs in the hope that they are too young to register the impact.
“Many kids had anxiety and their school learning suffered. Even those who were babies on Black Saturday were sometimes profoundly affected.”
The results of the Beyond Bushfires study will inform efforts by government, emergency services and communities to prepare for future disasters and develop effective recovery services.
For more about these findings, click here. Story credit: University of Melbourne newsroom.
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