Tips on coping with threat of bushfires

FAMILIES at risk of bushfires need to prepare mentally for the stress of natural disasters before they occur, new research by the Australian Psychological Society shows.

The society has developed a new online information sheet to help people cope with bushfires.

The APS research, conducted with the Red Cross, used studies after the Black Saturday fires, which claimed 173 lives, to highlight the need for psychological preparedness.

The information sheet encourages at-risk families to Anticipate, Identify, Manage - or AIM - how they might feel before the stress of a disaster strikes.

The information produced by the APS highlights that working through the likely psychological reactions to a natural disaster beforehand will help prevent being caught up in unhelpful thinking during an emergency situation.

The director of Melbourne University's Centre of Posttraumatic Mental Health, David Forbes, said the society's research has shown communities affected by natural disaster benefit from preparing mentally for trauma.

''By spending time with supportive friends and family, eating well and resting right, people will be better able to deal with a prolonged bush fire season as they will feel well-resourced and well-nourished,'' Professor Forbes said.

A Red Cross consultant psychologist, Rob Gordon, said the regularity of these disasters - as seen in Tasmania - means people must be more prepared.

The mental health organisation Beyond Blue has adopted a similar model to the AIM information sheet focusing on mental preparation.

The chief executive of Beyond Blue, Kate Carnell, believes that for people in a high-risk area it is just as important to look at the things you might need to have in your house as ''dealing with the emotional impacts of a disaster''.

The story Tips on coping with threat of bushfires first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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