We recently spoke with Dr Jay Robinson and Heather Ramp from the Lorne Community Hospital, about the support services available and some thoughts on health, well-being and the reasons why staying socially connected helps the recovery process.
Ten months on since the bushfire in Wye River & Separation Creek, and the conversation about community members looking after their overall health and wellbeing is still topical. Why is it important for everyone to continue to manage their health and wellbeing?
Peoples’ recovery after an event like the bushfire is very individual and dependent on personal circumstances. In the case of Wye River and Separation Creek following unseasonal rain the residents have been exposed to the problem of landslides. This has added to the communities’ burden, increasing social isolation and causing delays in rebuilding. The landslides have led to restrictions being placed on travel, creating problems getting to work and sustaining the day-to-day running of business. This situation has frustrated the community and further depleted peoples’ resources.
It is important for residents to remind themselves about the impact of stress, and the way stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol (our “action and endurance” body chemistry) function to help us keep going to meet the demands of the recovery process. When our attention and resources are pre-occupied with the immediate recovery problems, our capacity to focus, attend and prioritise daily health maintaining activities (like relaxation and regular exercise, a healthy diet, and engaging in pleasurable, social experiences with family and friends) is compromised.
These activities are crucial in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. For example, regular exercise has numerous health benefits—exercise releases “FEEL GOOD” body chemistry, it heats up the body allowing the discharge of emotions like anger (anger is burned off in body heat). Likewise, it is well established that PLEASURE, having fun and laughing with people who matter to us, is the best medicine for combating stress. WyeSep Residents are encouraged to plan protected time to engage in these activities to maintain overall health and wellbeing. It is important to recognise and focus on the fact many residents may be emotionally stressed, and to act on it. There is help available.
Through the Lorne Community Hospital, the Lorne Medical Centre is continuing to offer the free health check throughout spring. Who is it available for and why should community members get a health check?
All Residents in the WyeSep community affected by the fire can benefit from a health check with a General Practitioner (GP) at the Lorne Medical Centre. In coping with so much change and ongoing stress people can suffer from physical, emotional and social distress. It can be helpful to make a time to have a good chat with your GP to discuss your general health and any recovery issues, or just get general support where needed. Your GP can also suggest other health resources to assist in recovery.
What’s involved in a health check?
Health checks consist of a confidential discussion with a doctor about your physical, emotional and social health. It is an opportunity for you to discuss any concerns about your health. You can also talk with your doctor about support from other health professionals, like an onward referral to a psychologist to talk about worries, and help understand more fully the impact of your experience.
How do community members organise a free medical health check?
All it takes is a phone call to the Lorne Medical Centre on 52894333, and say you wish to a make an appointment for a free health check being offered to people affected by the bushfires.
The road to recovery is long, hard and emotional. On a day-to-day basis, how else can community members support themselves and one another?
We need to keep in mind that this event is unprecedented, and how people behave is largely a reflection of the stress they have been exposed to, and the grieving process that takes place. The fire disrupted normal routines and residents were forced to enter the unfamiliar and prolonged physical states of stress, initially to survive, and now to face the road to recovery.
It is important to keep in mind that during this time we suffer reduced capacity for reasoning, strategic decision making, prioritising, working toward long term goals, and thinking outside the square. Emotional life is raw and intense: we have reduced empathy and suffer from intolerance, and/or sometimes become intensely involved in the problems of recovery. We can fall into unhelpful patterns like blaming people for our experiences. This helps us cope—by blaming others we can avoid feeling responsible, be relieved of the ‘moral’ responsibility to act, it can create a sense of comfort, even control, and works to distance us from those we blame.
Blame is a component of disenfranchised grief. A grief which cannot be openly acknowledged, socially validated or publicly mourned. It is a grieving in response to the loss of our relationship with the community and environment we had, and is often unrecognised. Nothing is the same as it was, and it seems no-one outside the disaster really understands. Everything is destroyed or disrupted, our usual sense of control is taken away from us because outside agencies have come to help in line with established government protocols and procedures.
During this endurance mode, which can last up to two years, or until a new routine is established, stress will begin to reduce, routines and stability will be reformed. As we move into a third phase of healing (2nd to 3rd year) new plans will be made and houses built. Stress will reduce further and eventually let go its hold. There will be a move towards a new “comfort zone”. The disaster will become a part of our Life Story.
Keep in mind the more stressed we get, the more we focus on what we should be doing immediately to feel as though we’re getting somewhere. It is important during this phase to stay focused on the longer term, and remind yourself that it can’t happen quickly, but the wheels are in motion. When we are stressed we don’t feel we have the energy to socialise, but it’s really important we give ourselves that push to get out and get involved in something. Try not to personalise peoples stress and grief responses, take them for what they are, a normal reaction to an abnormal and prolonged stressful event.
It is a recipe for depression to stay put and feel angry and helpless. People who are connected with social networks always recover better than those who remain isolated and uninvolved. Please make a time to see a GP to get your health checked, and connect with support if needed.