Canberra, July 28 : Australian researchers have called for the need to urgently rethink to better manage the mental health impacts of bushfires, a study revealed on Friday.
In a study, a team from Australian National University (ANU) found that weather-related disasters can have significant mental health impacts on people living thousands of kilometers away from the directly affected area, reports Xinhua news agency.
Surveys of Australians found that authorities have underestimated the mental impact of the devastating 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires.
The fires, which burned for months across Australia, claimed dozens of lives and burned more than 24 million hectares, killing or displacing billions of animals.
A survey of more than 1,400 people across the country six months after the fires found that many Australians were dealing with a sense of loss regardless of whether they were directly affected.
Zoe Leviston, lead author of the report from the ANU School of Medicine and Psychology, said the findings suggest policymakers should be more aware of solastalgia — the distress people feel as a result of unwanted environmental change — and deploy mental health support services in response.
She said some people could be on the other side of the continent witnessing the devastation and that solastalgic response to environmental destruction was enough to negatively impact their mental health.
“Traditionally the way we assess the damage caused by bushfires is thought of in terms of direct physical impact, such as how many people had to evacuate, how many people lost property and how many people lost their lives, which is all important information to capture,” Leviston said.
“But importantly, people not directly impacted by a bushfire event also experience solastalgia and poorer mental health outcomes following bushfires. By not taking solastalgia into account, we are being very conservative in our estimates of bushfire impact on peoples’ mental health and wellbeing.”
Leviston suggested that given the less visible impacts of disasters such as solastalgia, climate scientists and the health sector should work together to identify areas where compounding disasters are more likely to occur and deploy resources accordingly.
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