The study aims to capture a diversity of experiences including those directly or indirectly affected by the tragic bushfires in February 2009, in rural communities across Victoria.
Researchers have launched the study in response to a need for evidence-based research to better support the development of policy and service delivery for fire affected families and communities over time.
Dr Lisa Gibbs of the University’s School of Population Health and McCaughey Centre said it is hoped the results of the study will be applied into policies to help communities and services with strategies to improve recovery in future catastrophes.
“We hope to establish some mental health and wellbeing strategies that individuals, communities and agencies can rely on if they ever face future natural disasters again,” Dr Gibbs said.
Titled ‘Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery’, the study has been funded by a five-year grant from the Australian Research Council.
It brings together a multidisciplinary team of leading international researchers with expertise in mental health, trauma, recovery, social networks, community and family health, child research, policy and emergency services.
“Our point of difference from other studies that have looked at the impact of disaster on individual mental health or post traumatic stress disorder, is our long term trajectory and emphasis on the connection between individual and community recovery,” Dr Gibbs said.
Dr Rob Gordon, a Clinical Psychologist who has worked in over 25 disasters in Australia and New Zealand said the study will be invaluable to gather urgently needed evidence about the patterns of impact and recovery and the full timescale involved.
“This information will be vital in preparing for effective support in future disasters,” he said.
Over the fire-year period researchers will survey around 3000 children, adolescents and adults from about 16 communities across Victoria, which experienced varying levels of fire impact. In-depth interviews will be conducted with individuals and families to further explore their experiences of community and recovery.
Collaborators include the Victorian Department of Health, Australian Red Cross, Centrelink, Australian Rotary Health, Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, and community and Primary Care Partnerships in the regions affected.
Principal Investigator Professor Elizabeth Waters said the community partnerships in the study provide a great hope for positive outcomes for the communities.
“With partnerships large and small in the communities affected, we hope that they will be able to drive the changes that are needed to promote health and wellbeing for those affected by the February 2009 Bushfires,” Professor Waters said.
Participants will be asked to do a phone or online survey (about 30 mins) three times over five years. A small group will be selected to do more indepth interviews.
For more information about the study go to www.beyondbushfires.org.au or phone 1800 020 727
University of Melbourne
1800 020 727