Natural disasters, such as bushfires and floods, can require large operational responses from Victoria Police employees. Like many major incidents, these can have a number of effects on one's overall mental health and wellbeing. After distressing, emotional and/or traumatic experiences it’s normal for your body and mind to go over what happened in order to better process the event and move on. In the first few weeks after the event, you may be emotionally affected in a number of ways, such as difficulty concentrating, problem with sleeping, intense feelings of sadness, guilt, fear and/or anger.
This usually settles down after a few weeks. It's important to pay attention to how you are feeling - your behaviour, your moods, your actions. The same event can affect people differently; one person might recover quickly, while another might experience enduring distress. Some people may experience strong emotional or physical reactions, or changes in their thinking and behaviour.
Many people recover from traumatic experiences using their own coping strategies, combined with the support of those around them. For some people, trauma symptoms may last longer and be more severe, and they may need support services or professional help to recover. If you feel stuck within a continuous loop of distress and are still struggling with intrusive thoughts and an inability to cope with what happened long after the event has passed, you may be experiencing negative mental health (mental ill-health), such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and/or burnout. This may be the time when you need additional self-care techniques or professional support to help with your recovery.
It’s important to remember everyone’s journey through recovery is different, and for many, recovery remains an ongoing challenge. This is particularly true for those living and working in affected areas. For those who may have been involved in or impacted by previous natural disaster events, such as the Black Saturday fires, new events may cause a re-experiencing of previous symptoms or bring up upsetting memories.
As employees of an emergency service (whether 'sworn' or 'unsworn' members), we are compassionate and empathetic by nature - we joined Victoria Police to help people and create safer communities for everyone. Sometimes that means our ability to process and move on from the distressing things that we see, hear, or experience can challenge our ability to cope and manage by using our usual strategies and techniques. As family and friends of emergency services workers, when our loved ones leave for their shift, there is nothing more important for them to do in their day than to get home again safely and for us to support them when they do.
The links included in the Wellbeing Support page offer a range of informative resources that provide wellbeing resources, advice for how to help yourself or support loved ones, and when to seek further support. If you have any concerns about yourself or your police loved one, please contact the Victoria Police Wellbeing Services, or the services provided.