When the 2019/20 bushfires tore across the country, individuals and communities were hard hit by the devastation, loss and uncertainty, particularly in the South-East of Australia.
Coupled with severe drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, rural and regional Victorians have been hard-hit by disaster. For those in, or with loved ones in, affected areas, seeking psychological support to deal with trauma might not have been an immediate priority and can be an overwhelming process.
That’s why we expanded our SOLAR initiative in regional and rural areas to help promote mental health and wellbeing in areas hard hit by the fires, after receiving a grant from State Trustees Australia Foundation.
SOLAR (Skills For Life Adjustment and Resilience) is an early intervention program designed to prevent the development of more serious psychiatric disorders in the face of natural disasters, and has been shown to help communities recover from events like bushfires.
The tight-knit community-mindedness of regional and rural Victorian communities is enhanced by initiatives like SOLAR which invest in early-intervention mental health. This means that more serious psychiatric disorders – which often occur following disasters – such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder, can be prevented.
Aside from the ongoing trauma from bushfires, drought and the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other major events impacting the mental health of those in regional and rural areas. Training community leaders and healthcare workers to deliver SOLAR significantly improves the mental health of those struggling with the impacts of these events by supporting people’s wellbeing and resilience; which we know from our trauma research is essential to support recovery and renewal after a disaster.
Head of Research at Phoenix Australia, Professor Meaghan O’Donnell, explains that “the SOLAR program has been developed by us in collaboration with other international experts in disaster mental health. It is based on the best evidence and has been tested with survivors of other disasters. We are excited to help improve the wellbeing of Victorians affected by bushfires, drought & COVID-19.”