By Claire Ottaviano
THE gravity of the bushfire disaster that hit the region this week will not be measurable in the coming days, weeks or even months.
While a physical toll can be counted in the number of homes lost, the mental health effects can be lifelong.
But help is available.
Red Cross Australia has been on the ground at the three evacuation centres providing the first level of mental health support to those seeking shelter there.
Red Cross WA director Craig Stewart said the organisation worked with the Department of Communities who is responsible for the coordination of emergency response.
“Our volunteers are out there providing welfare support and proving what’s called psychological first aid,” he said.
“There are a lot of people that are traumatised from losing homes and being out in those bushfire zones.
“All our volunteers are trained in these circumstances to deal with trauma and anxiety.”
He said volunteers were helping those who had lost homes to find accommodation and essential supplies and to help facilitate information for those who had not lost homes but were displaced.
“In the first instance some people look to manage on their own as best as they can off friends and family,” he said.
“Some people find it really difficult to reach out for help in the first instance but further down the track people will come forward for support that’s what we’re there for in the long term.
“After the 2014 Parkerville, Stoneville fires we were there in communities for a couple of years.”
As a volunteer firefighter for more than 25 years, Greg Jones has witnessed the physical, financial, emotional and mental health and wellbeing impacts on people exposed to bushfire.
“One of the biggest issues we are going to face is the impact on mental health,” he said.
“As well for the previous victims, it’s going to trigger them as if it’s just happened to them all over again.
“This is where people need to realise there are services available and they need to reach out for them.
“There are services and they can get assistance to help them cope – that’s the a really important message.”
From his experiences working closely with the 2008 and 2014 Parkerville and Stoneville Bushfire victims the Stoneville and Parkerville Progress Association vice-president says early intervention was critical to assisting mental health recovery.
More than 500 people have already taken advantage of the Red Cross’ Register.Find.Reunite register at www.register.redcross.org.au