Objective: We aimed to map the prevalence and predictors of psychological outcomes in affected communities 3-4 years after the Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, Australia.
Methods: Baseline assessment of a longitudinal cohort study in high-, medium-, and low-affected communities in Victoria. Participants included 1017 residents of high-, medium-, and low-affected fire communities. Participants were surveyed by means of a telephone and web-based interview between December 2011 and January 2013. The survey included measures of fire-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and general PTSD from other traumatic events, major depressive episode, alcohol use, and general psychological distress.
Results: The majority of respondents in the high- (77.3%), medium- (81.3%), and low-affected (84.9%) communities reported no psychological distress on the K6 screening scale. More participants in the high-affected communities (15.6%) reported probable PTSD linked to the bushfires than medium- (7.2%) and low-affected (1.0%) communities (odds ratio (OR): 4.57, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.61-8.00, p = 0.000). Similar patterns were observed for depression (12.9%, 8.8%, 6.3%, respectively) (OR: 1.83, 95% CI: 1.17-2.85, p = 0.008) and severe psychological distress (9.8%, 5.0%, 4.9%, respectively) (OR: 2.08, 95% CI: 1.23-3.55, p = 0.007). All communities reported elevated rates of heavy drinking (24.7%, 18.7%, 19.6%, respectively); however, these were higher in the high-affected communities (OR: 1.39, 95% CI: 1.01-1.89, p = 0.04). Severe psychological distress was predicted by fear for one's life in the bushfires, death of someone close to them in the bushfires, and subsequent stressors. One-third of those with severe psychological distress did not receive mental health assistance in the previous month.
Conclusions: Several years following the Black Saturday bushfires the majority of affected people demonstrated resilience without indications of psychological distress. A significant minority of people in the high-affected communities reported persistent PTSD, depression, and psychological distress, indicating the need for promotion of the use of health and complementary services, community-based initiatives, and family and other informal supports, to target these persistent problems.
Keywords: Black Saturday; Post-traumatic stress disorder; bushfires; disaster; resilience.
© The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists 2014.