In February 2019 Victorians will acknowledge the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 bushfires. The anniversary is a time to reflect and remember those who lost their lives in the bushfires, and to learn about the many lives that were changed and how communities have rebuilt.

Many Victorians still experience the impacts of the 2009 bushfires and as the anniversary approaches individuals, groups and communities may feel triggered and experience complex reactions. These situations, in combination with our ongoing bushfire threat can have a major impact on a peoples’ well-being and emotions.

Whether you or a loved one were directly or indirectly affected, it is normal to experience a range of different emotional, physical and psychological reactions. As such, it is important to look after ourselves, our family and friends and our colleagues during this time. 

Anniversary Reactions to Trauma

Anniversary reactions are a re-experiencing of a traumatic event that are triggered by a specific date or time period. As such, in the lead up to the 10th anniversary, feelings about the 2009 bushfires can come up and be almost as strong as they were during the event. The media’s focus on the event may offer a number of visual and other cues to remind us of what occurred and what we felt, increasing the likelihood of anniversary reactions.

Anniversary reactions may include feeling sad, angry, impatient, nervous, and having negative dreams or images. You may feel generally fatigued and be having difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and eating normally.

Try not to compare your reactions to those of others. Each person is different, and each individual will find their own way of coping with the memories. Additionally, it is important to note that not everyone affected by the 2009 bushfires will experience an anniversary reaction.

For those who do experience an anniversary reaction it can be helpful to understand some common responses so you know what to expect.

Common Reactions and Responses

Below are list of common response and reactions that you may experience. Be assured that they are typical reactions to abnormal events.

PhysicalBehaviouralCognitive (Thoughts)Emotional
HeadachesRestlessnessNightmares/dreams about what happenedSadness
Upset stomachApathyFlashbacks/reliving the experienceLoss
NauseaSleep disturbancesFocusing on the eventShock
Muscle tension and painIsolating self from othersDifficulty concentratingDisbelief at what happened
Sleep disturbancesEasily irritated by other peopleDifficulty making decisionsAnxiety and fear
FatigueFeelings of detachment from othersPoor judgmentAnger, Irritability, frustration
Chest pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressureLoss of interest in normal activities and hobbiesThinking that you are losing controlPanic attacks
Weight gain or lossIncreased use of alcohol/tobacco/other drugsUnable to understand your own reactionsDepression
Asthma, shortness of breathNot wanting to go to work or wanting to go to work more than usualThinking that you are going crazyGuilt
SweatingLow motivationDesire to escape or run awayHelplessness and vulnerability
Shaking or tremblingPoor concentration and attentionNumbness
Avoidance or obsession with media coverageWithdrawal
Losing your temperDisorientation
Overreacting to unexpected problemsParanoia

Coping with bushfire anniversary reactions

Look After Yourself 

Physical 

Lifestyle

How friends and family members can help 

If you know someone who was affected by the 2009 bushfires, it’s a good idea to check in on them to see if they are ok. It is important to;

If you think you need support

If you or someone you know is finding this time difficult, it’s important to remember you are not alone.

There are many avenues you can go to for advice or help, including informal supports such as friends, family and colleagues or professional supports such as your local doctor and mental health support services.

If at any time you are worried about your psychological wellbeing or the wellbeing of someone you know, there is always help available through:

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has provided extra support through existing, trusted and local service providers wherever possible to make sure people can access services that are tailored to their needs. These include:

To access these local services, you can speak with your doctor or a mental health professional.

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