This is branded content for the Black Dog Institute.
It's hard to believe that it's only been a year since the devastation of the Black Summer bush fires. Whilst the damaging effects of the fires was hard to take, the generosity and dedication of the many frontline workers left an indelible mark on Australians.
Whether it was the Sikh community serving hot meals, the grassroots initiative of Find a Bed to help displaced people and animals find accommodation, or the dedication of those in wildlife rescue saving our furry Aussie icons, it was the everyday Australians who stepped in to help that remains an abiding memory.
For those who have generously supported our communities, either during the most recent bush fires, or any previous natural disaster there is free mental health support available. The Black Dog Institute understand that it can take years for mental health issues to surface and the support services of the Institute are open to all emergency service workers and their loved ones, regardless of when they may have assisted the community.
One group of volunteers, saw daily the devastating impact fires have had on our wildlife. Carers at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie were inundated with injured animals and continued to provide care for wounded animals for months afterwards.
Sue Ashton, the President of the Koala Hospital speaks movingly of the hundreds of hours of care her volunteers provided to animals injured by the bush fires as well as the devastation that comes with the difficult decision to euthanise animals after months of care.
Talking about the work that continued during COVID-19, Mrs Ashton highlights the difficulties faced by many emergency service workers saying "The restrictions on movement due to COVID-19 saw many of our older volunteers isolated from their regular support network". These changes added additional stress to many emergency service workers, affecting their mental health.
The delayed onset of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or PTSD is one of the reasons the Black Dog Institute launched the Bush Fire Support Service - a new online mental health support service.
This free service is available Australia-wide for emergency service workers and their loved ones, who may be facing mental health challenges.
Professor Sam Harvey, Chief Psychiatrist and Deputy Director of the Black Dog Institute specialises in research of the mental health of emergency services workers and emphasises that the nature of these roles can have a significant impact, with up to 1 in 10 frontline workers having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorders, with similar numbers having depression and anxiety.
"Frontline workers look after us when we need it, and we need to provide for them when their role has consequences that negatively impacts their mental health. In short, now it's our turn to look after them. Without their mental wellbeing where would we be next fire season or when the next natural disaster strikes in Australia?" says Professor Sam Harvey.
Acknowledging the rollercoaster of 2020, Professor Harvey says many emergency service workers could be feeling the effect of cumulative adversity - where the impact of the bush fires on top of drought, floods and COVID-19 begin to add up.
He also emphasises that whilst it can be hard to identify the cause of mental health issues, it's also not necessary to access the new service offered by the Black Dog Institute.
"Bush fire recovery funding has allowed us to start this service, but we are treating people with mental health issues that could have been caused by any number of natural disasters that may have occurred in Australia. Part of this service is to help you work out if you need help or not," he adds.
The Bush Fire Support Service, offers emergency service workers and their families up to twelve one-on-one psychological mental healthcare sessions with experts, free of charge and is available Australia-wide via Telehealth. This new service can be accessed by all first responders and their loved ones who have been affected by natural disasters in Australia, including but not limited to:
- Fire fighters
- Police officers
- Law enforcement officers
- Fire service personnel
- First responders
- Recovery/response workers
- Fire and rescue workers
- Royal lifesaving volunteers
- Wildlife rescuers
- Emergency medical service officers
- Ambulance officers
- Disaster/post-disaster workers
- Search and rescue workers
- State emergency service volunteers
- Country fire authority personnel
- Correctional officers
Please note that this is not an exclusive list and if you believe you or your loved ones may need support from the Bush Fire Support Service, please contact them for a free consultation to see if they can help you. With this new free service, emergency service workers like the carers in the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, can get support from leading Black Dog Institute specialists and ensure they're able to access the mental health help they need.
The Bush Fire Support Service also offers people a variety of ways of accessing the service, including resources offered through their website, designed to link people with the most appropriate support options for their individual needs.
You can also book a consultation by calling the Bush Fire Support Service on (02) 8627 3314 for a short initial phone call. The clinic is open 9am-5pm (AEST), Monday to Friday. Following the initial assessment, any ongoing treatment can be carried out via online telehealth, meaning there is no cost for call charges, ensuring the free service and clinical mental health support is available to all emergency service workers and their families in Australia who may need support, regardless of their location.
For a confidential and free check of your mental wellbeing and to find out what support services best suit your need, go to: