Not feeling like yourself after the bushfires? It can help to talk.
It’s normal to have strong emotional and physical reactions after a significant event. There is no right or wrong way to feel – people can respond to the same event in very different ways.
You might feel anxious, overwhelmed or confused; feel sad, irritable or angry, or numb.
You might feel unwell – headaches, difficulty sleeping, losing or gaining weight.
Some people might increase their use of alcohol or drugs. Some may even think of harming themselves.
Talking to a professional can help you process your reactions and develop healthy coping strategies.
If you want some more support, if people you know are worried about you, or if you’re still feeling unsettled even after a few weeks – it is a good idea to talk to someone. Help is available.
How to access support
Free counselling sessions
If you live in an area heavily affected by the fires, you can access up to 10 free counselling sessions.
The counselling sessions are provided by local services arranged through the Primary Health Network (PHN) in your area, and are completely confidential.
To find the free counselling in your area speak to your local PHN. Don’t know who your PHN is? It’s OK, you can use the PHN map locator tool at health.gov.au/phn. PHNs in fire affected areas have received funding for bushfire coordinators to assist you find services in your area.
If you can’t find a service in your area, call 180 22 66 and ask about counselling after the fires. They will talk to you about the options.
Easier access to Medicare rebated sessions
If you have been affected by the bushfires, you are eligible to receive Medicare rebates for up to 10 psychological therapy sessions without needing a mental health treatment plan. These can be face to face or via telehealth.
You do not need a GP referral, diagnosed mental health condition or mental health treatment plan to access these sessions.
You do need to cover any costs on top of the Medicare rebate.
You can book directly with an eligible psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker or GP in your area.
To find a service provider:
- Find a Psychologist (through the Australian Psychological Society website)
- Find a Social Worker (through the Australian Association of Social workers website)
- Find an OT (through the Occupational Therapy Australia website)
- Or contact your GP to find out if they are eligible to provide psychological therapy.
Visit on the ground support
You can access emotional and mental health support by contacting:
- Your GP or Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
- Your local recovery centre
- Your local headspace centre (for young people 12 to 25 years)
Call for a chat
You can access telephone support by contacting:
- Services Australia Disaster Hotline – 180 22 66
- Lifeline’s dedicated Bushfire Recovery Crisis Support line 13 HELP (13 43 57)
- MensLine – 1300 78 99 78
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
- GriefLine - 1300 845 745
- Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
- Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 (telephone counselling for young people aged 5 to 25)
- Qlife - 1800 184 527 (telephone and online counselling daily 3pm to midnight for LGBTI people of all ages)
If you need an interpreter to help speak with any of the above services, please call the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) on 131 450.
Or hop online
- www.headspace.org.au support for young people aged 12 to 25 years
- www.emergingminds.com.au for helpful advice and practical strategies to help you support small children in uncertain times
- au.reachout.com/collections/natural-disasters for resources to help you cope during and after a disaster, including online forums for anonymous peer-based support
- www.embracementalhealth.org.au for mental health resources, services and information for people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds
Wellbeing help for your community
In January 2020 the Australian Government announced a $76 million package to provide mental health support services to firefighters, emergency personnel, individuals and communities impacted by the bushfire disaster.
It includes the free counselling and Medicare-rebated therapy sessions described above. It also includes:
- an expansion of headspace services for young Australians
- training in trauma informed care and psychological first aid to frontline emergency response workers, their families and employers
- community recovery initiatives to support connectedness and social cohesion.
Support is also available through school communities:
- Beyond Blue’s Be You program is rolling out across bushfire affected schools
- The National Chaplaincy program also provides support
Kids Helpline is also available on 1800 55 1800.
In May 2020 an extra $13.5 million in funding was committed to help local Primary Health Networks in fire affected areas boost the wellbeing of their communities. This funding will be rolled out over two years to help the most severely affected areas commission non-clinical and community based activities to support emotional and mental health.
Mental health support for emergency services workers and volunteers and their families
If you’re an emergency service worker or volunteer affected by the 2019-20 bushfires, free support services are available for you and your immediate families and kinship groups.
This support is provided by Fortem Australia and Black Dog Institute who have been funded by the Department of Home Affairs to deliver these services.
These supports build on the pool of services already available so you can access specialised support when you’re ready.
The Black Dog Institute
The Black Dog Institute is an independent not-for-profit research organisation that aims to create a mentally healthier world for everyone.
Black Dog have teamed up with UNSW Sydney and launched the Bush Fire Support Service, a digital gateway to connect all first responders who helped in the bush fires to a network of support and treatment services. The gateway was launched on 16 November 2020.
Individuals can choose to access the service in a variety of ways, including a confidential online mental health assessment and a range of tailored digital resources and tools designed to link people with the most appropriate support.
The digital gateway service enables any first responder (including firefighters, SES, ambulance and lifeguards), or their adult family members, to be easily linked to leading mental health care Australia-wide, regardless of where they live.
To access online self-help tools and resources, or to learn more about the clinical services, visit www.bushfiresupport.org.au.
Black Dog is also delivering clinical psychologist support for all emergency service workers and their adult family members. Individuals can access up to twelve one-on-one psychological mental health care sessions. These will be free of charge via Telehealth from the clinics at Black Dog and UNSW Sydney.
Individuals may find it helpful to talk about their thoughts with a professional to better understand their own thinking and behaviour and further build coping skills. Free sessions can be booked directly by contacting one of Bush Fire Support Service’s two clinical services:
- UNSW Sydney Traumatic Stress Clinic (02) 8627 3314
- Black Dog Institute Depression Clinic (02) 9382 2991
One-on-one sessions are available via Telehealth video calls, or can be accessed in person at the clinics located in Sydney.
Fortem Australia Is a not-for-profit organisation that supports first responder families to proactively look after their wellbeing and mental fitness.
Fortem is delivering support activities to help strengthen family bonds and connect first responders with communities who share similar experiences. This includes family weekends, exercise activities, BBQs and trivia nights.
Fortem delivers events in the Bega Valley, Canberra region, Eurobodalla, Gold Coast, Illawarra, Melbourne, Northern NSW, Port Macquarie, Shoalhaven and Sydney regions. Virtual events are also available.
Visit https://www.fortemaustralia.org.au/calendar/ to see a calendar of upcoming events.
Fortem Psychology Support is available to first responders who were involved in the Black Summer bushfires and their immediate family members. This includes volunteers. You can attend a Fortem Psychology Support session by yourself, as a couple or as a family. No referral is required.
Call Fortem on 1300 33 95 94 during business hours to book in a time that suits you. If there is no Fortem Psychologist based near you, sessions can be delivered via telehealth.
Other types of bushfire support
This has been a really difficult time for communities recovering from the fires.
Governments aim to support all areas of recovery, because some things won’t be helped by simply talking.
There are many different avenues of support. Financial, emotional and community support and all help you toward a path to feeling better.
To find out if you are eligible for other bushfire support contact your state recovery hotline: