Are racking up an invisible bill.
Most would agree that even just seeing the billowing smoke, the hellish glow, buckled tin roofs, smouldering ash, the ghostly silhouettes of dead animals lining the roads into obliterated small towns, even when viewed from the safe parts of the country and the globe, even when the horror is confined to a steady scroll behind a screen, is overwhelming. The helplessness bruises our emotions. We can be forgiven for making a donation, posting something derogatory about our inept prime minister and then switching off our screens for a bit.
For the fire fighters, the people in masks in boats under those bloodied skies there can be no thought other than surviving one hour or minute to the next. The same goes for the emergency services, the army personnel, those with loved ones in the danger zones, those who have lost loved ones.
But what about the rest of us. Yes, we can donate to the Red Cross or Celeste Barber or any of the other funds set up to try and help deal with this unprecedented crisis. We can go shopping and buy things on a list that are needed by the emergency services.
But then what – what to do we do next?
We think about the longer term and how we can help once the fires are out. And I’m not talking about going into towns and spending tourist money. Here is what has occupied my thoughts in the last few months and weeks:
This fire monster has a whole other layer to it. A layer that is invisible right now because the flames are so high, and the smoke is so thick.
Once the fires are gone or even if they never do (and that’s what it feels like) many of those survivors will have seen and heard and smelled things that can’t be erased. They may have escaped the fires physically unscathed only to return to ashes where their home once housed their memories.
Firemen and women may have saved 100 properties, but the one that wakes them in a cold sweat at night will be the one they couldn’t do anything for. There will be children who will have lost their safe spaces, their bedrooms and schoolrooms, their cuddle blankets and pets to the flames. Some might be fine down the track. Others won’t.
These thousands of people who will survive this national trauma and who are completely absorbed with their survival right now, may not be aware that the horror won’t end once all the fires are out. They may not be aware that the fires will keep reaping people long after the last flames have been extinguished. PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety will ride in on the coat tails of this disaster for many, many people.
I’ve written several posts on the topic of our inadequate public mental health system. I suspect many of the people affected by these fires may not be able to afford private health insurance to get them good or even just adequate treatment for the mental health conditions brought on or exacerbated by the trauma.
This is what I have thought about as I tried to decide who to donate to. And today Magda Szubanski made that decision an easy one. She has started a GoFundMe page to raise money to provide mental health care for people traumatised by the bushfires, in the longer term, and is liaising with Beyond Blue and other mental health organisations to ensure the money goes to the right places.
If this is a cause that resonates with you or even if not – have a think about it and consider donating. Just go to Magda’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/magda_szubanski/?hl=en and you will find the direct link to the GoFundMe page in her Instagram bio.
These are some older posts relating to the state of our public mental health system: