How did the trauma of 2020 impact you? Researchers want to know

Researcher and clinical psychologist Dr Emily Macleod. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Researcher and clinical psychologist Dr Emily Macleod. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Dr Emily Macleod of the Australian National University wants to hear from the whole of Australia.

She and a team at the ANU are embarking on a huge survey of the effects of three catastrophic events in that year of catastrophes, 2020: bushfire, smoke and the epidemic.

To do that, they need to hear the experiences of those who were close to any of those disasters and to none of them.

The idea is that by analysing the three together, the researchers can work out the effects of each on people's mental well-being, in particular. They also want lots of other information about bushfire preparedness, for example, and whether the epidemic caused you financial difficulty or loss of sleep.

The project is called the Australian National Bushfire Health and Wellbeing Study. The questionnaire is anonymous. Nobody's identity can be discovered from it.

They want to hear from people who weren't affected by the fires or smoke or badly affected by the epidemic so they can compare these experiences with those of people in the badly hit areas. The unaffected people would be the control group for statistical purposes.

The ANU researchers say individuals, families and communities were all affected by a disorientating combination of distressing situations "as a result of danger, evacuation, displacement and loss - of life, property, livelihood".

"They are also at increased risk of acute and long-term psychological and behavioural health problems," the study says.

Dr Macleod, a clinical psychologist at the ANU, said there was an "an urgent need" to fill in the gaps in knowledge about the effects.

"Our survey asks about nationwide experiences relating to health and well-being after the 2019-2020 bushfires, as well as factors relating to resilience and preparedness. Ultimately we hope to understand how best to support people nationwide in the face of future bushfires," she said.

"Experts agree that bushfire threat is increasing. We are trying to identify the factors that help people and communities be prepared for and resilient to future bushfires.

"The results will be used to shape strategies to support individuals and communities in the face of future bushfires, and improve patient care."

Dr Macleod feared future bushfires could be worse and disruptive to society, saying: "Social connectedness and community resilience are important in facilitating recovery from natural disaster. However, dramatic changes to the environment and social landscape following bushfires mean that community structures may become fragmented or displaced.

"Our approach is sensitive and respectful to the experiences of affected people and communities, and the responses will offer important insights and contribute to an important conversation."

You can complete the survey on the special ANU website.

This story How did the trauma of 2020 impact you? Researchers want to know first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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