Australia is a country of harsh extremes, experiencing a range of natural disasters including bushfires, floods, and severe storms. This summer alone, thousands of lives were affected by severe flooding and Cyclone Yasi in Queensland and Victoria, and bushfires in Western Australia.
In times like these, losses – both physical and emotional – can be devastating, with many of those directly affected experiencing the impacts for years to come.
But according to Lifeline’s National Manager of Media and Government Relations, Chris Wagner, there are some positive things we can do as a community, and as individuals to help our fellow Australians overcome feelings of loss and trauma and rebuild their lives.
“There are lots of really simple ways that we can assist each other, and work together as a community to help people cope with what they are experiencing now and what they will experience in the future,” says Wagner.
According to Wagner, the initial outpouring of money and donations from the community was a very positive start.
“Interestingly enough the outpouring from the community in terms of money and donations can also be very good for a person’s psyche – particularly those in damaged areas. That sort of outpouring of generosity and support from the community can be a really good bolster.”
In addition, he says, it’s important for the community to allow people to converse and share openly and safely.
“What we really need to do is ensure there is no stigma, ensure there is an open dialogue and that people feel safe to discuss their feelings without having to worry about ridicule and without a sense from the community that they should just get over it and move on.”
Similarly, he says, on an individual basis “we all have a role to play to make our friends and family, friends and colleagues feel comfortable to come to us and share.”
“Go to your friends and say are you ok? How are you feeling? Do you want a chat? Share with them your own experiences so they feel able to open up,” he suggests.
And he says, if they’re not coping, help them find help.
“Help them connect to a service that can provide help – a service like lifeline, or a GP, or counselling service or something in the local communities. Head to one of the recovery centres and talk to someone there. Just be a conduit of help for them.”
As for those of us affected directly, Wagner says it’s important to try and be positive and look for things we can control in our lives.
“We control what we eat, we control the amount of exercise we do, we control the amount we share with the people around us,” he says.
“So do things that are good for you mentally physically and you will find that that will really make a big difference.”
If you or someone you know wants some emotional support, Lifeline is open 24 hours a day. Call 13 11 14