Psychological burns

As Morwell and district residents conclude their fourth week of physical and emotional upheaval, the state’s leading emergency recovery psychologist has urged the community to remain vigilant.

Dr Rob Gordon said the air quality crisis was a unique situation, which would take “a while” to recover from.

“It’s a very disturbing experience for people, because you can’t work out what’s happening to you by normal senses,” Dr Gordon said.

“That gives people a sense of helplessness and if you combine that with the uncertainty of ‘how much contamination have I got and what does my body do about it?’, there’s a tendency to become anxious.”

Dr Gordon said if residents did not find a sense of security to combat anxious feelings, those feelings often turned into fear, anger and blame.

“You not only see anger at the mine and authorities, but it tends to break out in the community, for example, those who are eligible for assistance versus those who are not and people who think others are whingeing too much,” Dr Gordon said.

“This kind of community conflict is common. Our brains go into simple black and white thinking and then we become very judgemental about each other.

“The Morwell community have got to hold together through this. If people aren’t careful, you’ll see relationships breaking down.”

Dr Gordon encouraged community members to attempt to take their mind off the situation by keeping a routine and doing things they enjoyed.

“Check in with your health practitioner and talk through what’s going on.

” If people do it sooner rather than later, then it becomes preventive.”

Dr Gordon said the disruption to peoples’ lives meant they might not be attending to the things they “normally do without thinking” and communication within personal relationships was crucial.

“This is a very disruptive event and it’s going to take a while for Morwell to get back to normal,” he said.

“Many communities are now responding better to bushfires because the state is ready, but here we’ve got a very unusual event and the state and the community is inexperienced.

“But the residents should be confident the community is not going to be left to do this alone.”

? If you are struggling to cope, phone Lifeline on

13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.