Peregian Bushfire Aftermath
Peregian Bushfire Aftermath

Mental side of Qld disasters unsustainable

THE "compounding effect" of bushfires on rural Queensland communities already struggling from years of drought will be devastating for residents' mental health, a psychologist has warned.

The state has had a disastrous start to the warmer months with hot, dry and windy conditions fuelling around 80 fires which have destroyed 17 houses and damaged about 70 more.

Some of the areas most significantly affected are also in the throes of drought, including the Southern Downs and Scenic Rim in the state's southeast where residents have been returning to their townships to find blackened landscapes and property.

"The drought has brought people right to the edge," Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobie told AAP on Saturday.

"And now the bushfire on top of that, for some, it will mean the end of their business.

"This is a really, really hot spring already. We've got unprecedented conditions in our region. The countryside's brittle from drought.

"If it doesn't rain this summer, ... we're going to need it the next."

The regions' primary producers are of most concern, with the bushfires cruelling prospects of an average output this year.

Some farmers have been left without a single blade of grass due to the bushfires, meaning they won't harvest anything until next year due to the lack of foreseeable rain, Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen said.

"When the flames go away is when the real work begins. That will be an enduring challenge," he said.

Psychologist Susie Burke believes the forecast of another hot and dry summer could be a trigger for depression because "you can't see any respite".

"We can't sustain this level of distress and destruction. It's psychologically damaging, it's financially damaging," she said.

"It's enormously stressful to be enduring prolonged drought and going the financial stress and the family stress of it, and then the acute fear of a bushfire threat."

She said an increased frequency of climate change-related weather disasters would have people worried about their long-term well-being.

The state and federal governments have offered financial assistance those impacted by the bushfires, and Crs Dobie and Christensen are at pains to urge their struggling residents to seek the emotional support being made available at recovery centres.

But Dr Burke fears it may not be enough.

"The terrific strength of people in rural communities is the community connection and that's a protective factor," she said.

"The downside for people in rural communities is when they're thinking they might need some extra, professional support, those services are not available."

Cr Dobie has urged people to support the regions by visiting to boost the tourism industry.


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