The dynamic course of psychological outcomes following the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires

Richard A. Bryant, Lisa Gibbs, H. Colin Gallagher, Phillipa Pattison, Dean Lusher, Colin MacDougall, Louise Harms, Karen Block, Greg Ireton, John Richardson, David Forbes, Robyn Molyneaux, Meaghan O’Donnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives: To profile the long-term mental health outcomes of those affected by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires and to document the course of mental health since the disaster. Method: The longitudinal Beyond Bushfires study included 1017 respondents (Wave 1; 3–4 years after the fires), 736 (76.1%) at Wave 2 (5 years after the fires) and 525 (51.6%) at Wave 3 (10 years after the fires). The survey indexed fire-related and subsequent stressful events, probable posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, alcohol use, severe distress and receipt of health services for mental health problems. Results: Relative to their status 3–4 years after the fires, there were reduced rates of fire-related posttraumatic stress disorder (6.2% vs 12.2%), general posttraumatic stress disorder (14.9% vs 18.7%) and severe distress (4.4% vs 7.5%) at 10 years. There were comparable rates between Wave 1 and Wave 3 for depression (10.9% vs 8.3%) and alcohol abuse (21.8% vs 18.5%). Of people in high-affected regions, 22.1% had posttraumatic stress disorder, depression or severe distress at Wave 3. One-third to one-half of participants who reported probable posttraumatic stress disorder or depression at any assessment did not display the disorder at the next assessment. Worsening of mental health at Wave 3 was associated with the extent of property loss, exposure to recent traumatic events or recent stressful life events. Only 24.6% of those with a probable disorder had sought professional help for this in the previous 6 months. Conclusion: Approximately one-fifth of people from high-affected areas have a probable psychological disorder a decade after the fires. Mental health appears to fluctuate for those who are not consistently resilient, apparently as a result of ongoing stressors. The observation that most people with probable disorder are not receiving care highlights the need for further planning about managing long-term mental health needs of disaster-affected communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)666-677
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number7
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Black Saturday
  • bushfires
  • disaster
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • resilience


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