As a parent, you have an awful lot on your shoulders after experiencing a bushfire. You’re working hard to support your child through the trauma and ensure your family’s basic needs are met, as well as coping with your own feelings of loss and grief. Not to mention the mental challenge of navigating bureaucratic systems and the physically demanding work of cleaning up (and perhaps even starting over).
It can be hard to find hope when you’re moving into a future you didn’t ask for. But the most important thing we can stress here is the need for you to be kind to yourself. Remember, looking after yourself is looking after your child’s mental health and wellbeing. Self-care is not an indulgence, it’s a priority. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing following a bushfire is an essential part of supporting your child’s recovery. Research shows that couples who’ve experienced natural disasters have a greater likelihood of experiencing family illness, divorce, family violence and substance use issues.1 Your long-term wellbeing is crucial to the family unit, so it’s important to make your physical and mental health a priority.
One thing that can make a big difference is having someone to talk to. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or finding it difficult to manage your everyday tasks, seek advice from your GP or a trusted health professional. They can work with you to figure out what you’re feeling and make a plan to put some extra supports in place. For example, your GP can set you up with a Mental Health Treatment Plan, which gives you subsidised face-to-face or online sessions with a mental health specialist (e.g. psychologist, counsellor). If you find it hard to ask for help when you need it, Beyond Blue has some tips around how to ask for support.
Even as things return to ‘normal’ (or you begin to establish a ‘new normal’), you might continue to feel hopeless, overwhelmed, sad, angry or stressed. You may worry that something is wrong with you, but it’s normal to experience these kinds of overwhelming emotions, along with feelings of grief and loss, following an extreme event like a bushfire. Keep in mind that you’re going through a period of adjustment and do your best to take things one day at a time. Remind yourself that these feelings are a normal response to the intense, unusual and unique circumstances you’ve been (and still are going) through.
It’s important to connect with friends and other family members during this time, or with online communities who have been through the same or a similar event (for example, Facebook groups). They might be experiencing similar feelings, even if they don’t show it.
Your child will need reassurance that they are safe, even if your family did not experience a direct loss during the event. You can provide this through conversations that are calm and supportive, hugs, a consistent household routine, and by encouraging them to play and do calming activities that align with their interests (for example, colouring in, reading or crafts). If you and your family experienced a direct loss during the event, it might take longer for feelings to resolve, and you may need additional support to cope.
In the following video (24 seconds), Rachel (whose family experienced the Strathewen bushfires) shares her advice for other parents who have been through a bushfire.