As most people might know by now, Australia is seeing the worst wildfires in the past few decades. These fires, which started in late July, have continued into 2020, and pose a great threat in a world already ravaged by climate change. Not only have people lost their lives and homes because of the fire; air quality has been drastically impacted, forests and bushland have been scorched, and native animals like kangaroos and koalas are facing the loss of their habitat. The area affected by the fires is larger than that of the European countries of Denmark and Belgium combined (Yeung, 2020)
Apart from the more visible environmental and economic consequences, these fires are making an impact on the mental health of individuals. The fires have taken an unmistakable emotional toll on individuals, and can be classified as a form of trauma.
According to the American Psychological Association, or APA, trauma can cause distress to those who witness or even read about a disaster or tragedy, which includes climate change related extreme weather conditions.
The range of psychological symptoms faced by those affected by the wildfires can range from flashbacks, depression and mood swings. As children have a hard time understanding what is happening, and may not have well established coping mechanisms relative to adults, they are at particular risk for various mental health concerns.
While facing traumatic stress after catastrophic events is normal to an extent, if symptoms persist for more than four to six weeks then professional mental health must be sought (Ducharme, 2020).
Keeping this in mind, the government of Australia has taken some noteworthy steps to address the mental health needs of the population during this difficult time. They have adopted the stance of early intervention and are sending in counsellors to wildfire affected zones to prevent long term psychological ramifications. The government has declared that it will spend over 10 million dollars in addressing the mental health needs of individuals by providing them with 10 free counselling sessions (Laschon, 2020).
Given the rising number of extreme weather events linked to climate change, it is clear that discussions on climate action must keep in mind the mental health implications that such events pose to individuals and communities.
Ducharme, J. (2020). How the Bushfires Threaten Australian's Mental Health.
Laschon, E. (2020). Mental health services boost delivers $76 million for fire-affected communities.
Yeung, J. (2020). What you need to know about Australia's deadly wildfires.