Bushfire fallout tests kids' mental health

Children who experienced Tasmania's bushfires showed signs of mental health problems, experts say.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression are affecting some of the kids who experienced Tasmania's bushfire crisis.

Experts have found around 10 per cent of children who experienced Tasmania's devastating bushfires are showing signs of mental health problems.

A team coordinated by mental health organisation beyondblue has screened 212 children, finding 26 would benefit from more treatment.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression have been identified among the children, some who had to flee for their lives with their families or who saw animals being burned alive.

Professor Brett McDermott, a co-founder of the program also used successfully after the Brisbane floods, said the smell of barbecue smoke or the sound of a siren could still be terrifying years later for a child.

"They might have nightmares and flashbacks and feel like it's happening all over again," Professor Brett McDermott told AAP.

"Or a reminder which might be real, like barbecue smoke, or symbolic, like an ambulance, can bring it all back to them."

As well as PTSD symptoms, parents, teachers and mental health workers are on the lookout for children who appear to show an emotional numbness or have developed phobias to things like fire or wind.

Professor McDermott said the younger the children, the less able they were to process the circumstances of the disaster.

"Some of these kids have had extremely frightening situations where they've been evacuated through very dense smoke and through fire," he said.

" ... Some kids saw animals that were burning.

"These are really frightening kinds of things."

Children in every school affected by the fires have been through a two-stage screening process, while parents and teachers have received training as part of a $650,000 project also involving the Tasmanian government and the Red Cross.

Children needing treatment will receive a form of cognitive behavioural therapy, where they confront and train their thoughts about their experience.

An important part of that was children being able to tell their story, professor McDermott said.

"It was so frightening that they won't tell anyone about it or it comes out in nightmares and dreams which isn't helpful," he said.

"We get them to tell their story several times until it doesn't have any power over them any more.

"The whole emotional burden of their story is diminished."

Professor McDermott said the figure of around 10 per cent was consistent with research from other bushfires.

The flipside of the finding was that most parents were being reassured their children were coping well, he said.

Source AAP

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