Rebuilding lives

Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire

Lynne McCormack, Tamra Sillick

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapter

Abstract

Catastrophic natural disasters such as a ‘blow-up’ bushfire have the capacity to overwhelm authorities, ambush escape routes for humans and animals trying to flee, and destroy communities in minutes. They are increasing in frequency as the global temperature continues to rise. Despite the physical and material risks, such terrorising events are psychologically confronting and can leave individuals with traumatic distress, even psychopathology. However, little research explores the subjective interpretation of those who have been impacted physically, psychologically and financially by a catastrophic bushfire. The ‘lived’ experience of six participants was explored and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four themes emerged: surviving the terror; on patrol and guilty; no longer me/no longer us; and personal renaissance; which capture the participants’ ongoing trajectory of survival, selfinterrogation, and a search for meaning and reconnection with loved ones and community. However, in the immediate period post-fire, career goals, child/parent relations, intimate relationship, and sense of community belonging were unexpectedly and negatively impacted. New perspectives were forced onto old relationships compelling these individuals to confront ‘self’. Complicating recovery was a sense of betrayal at being let down, even abandoned, by first responders. Trust diminished as society quickly lost interest in their plight and it was no longer headline news. This was further compounded when financial reparation proved grossly inadequate. Slowly, acceptance of a lone journey emerged whereby the participants began to redefine life differently, examining prior roles and expectations. This positive shift in interpretation promoted positive change: increased empathy, love, and gratitude. A decade later they were able to identify that trust-in-a-future had re-emerged. This study highlights the complexity of distress and recovery for these participants and suggests community preparation and support, including financial and psychological support, is currently challenged in the aftermath of a threat that is predicted to increase in frequency in many countries.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWIT Transactions on the Built Environment
Subtitle of host publicationDisaster Management 2017
EditorsC.A. Brebbia
Place of PublicationSouthampton, United Kingdom
PublisherWITPress
Chapter9
Pages89-102
Number of pages14
Volume173
ISBN (Electronic)17433509
ISBN (Print)9781784661885
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

Fingerprint

trauma
Recovery
Disasters
community
Fires
Animals
Trajectories
reparation
interpretation
psychopathology
Renaissance
empathy
love
terrorism
natural disaster
parents
news
acceptance
animal
career

Cite this

McCormack, L., & Sillick, T. (2017). Rebuilding lives: Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire. In C. A. Brebbia (Ed.), WIT Transactions on the Built Environment: Disaster Management 2017 (Vol. 173, pp. 89-102). Southampton, United Kingdom: WITPress. https://doi.org/10.2495/DMAN170091
McCormack, Lynne ; Sillick, Tamra. / Rebuilding lives : Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire. WIT Transactions on the Built Environment: Disaster Management 2017. editor / C.A. Brebbia. Vol. 173 Southampton, United Kingdom : WITPress, 2017. pp. 89-102
@inbook{f30aeaa618d64a5f872199c4ea113cbe,
title = "Rebuilding lives: Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire",
abstract = "Catastrophic natural disasters such as a ‘blow-up’ bushfire have the capacity to overwhelm authorities, ambush escape routes for humans and animals trying to flee, and destroy communities in minutes. They are increasing in frequency as the global temperature continues to rise. Despite the physical and material risks, such terrorising events are psychologically confronting and can leave individuals with traumatic distress, even psychopathology. However, little research explores the subjective interpretation of those who have been impacted physically, psychologically and financially by a catastrophic bushfire. The ‘lived’ experience of six participants was explored and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four themes emerged: surviving the terror; on patrol and guilty; no longer me/no longer us; and personal renaissance; which capture the participants’ ongoing trajectory of survival, selfinterrogation, and a search for meaning and reconnection with loved ones and community. However, in the immediate period post-fire, career goals, child/parent relations, intimate relationship, and sense of community belonging were unexpectedly and negatively impacted. New perspectives were forced onto old relationships compelling these individuals to confront ‘self’. Complicating recovery was a sense of betrayal at being let down, even abandoned, by first responders. Trust diminished as society quickly lost interest in their plight and it was no longer headline news. This was further compounded when financial reparation proved grossly inadequate. Slowly, acceptance of a lone journey emerged whereby the participants began to redefine life differently, examining prior roles and expectations. This positive shift in interpretation promoted positive change: increased empathy, love, and gratitude. A decade later they were able to identify that trust-in-a-future had re-emerged. This study highlights the complexity of distress and recovery for these participants and suggests community preparation and support, including financial and psychological support, is currently challenged in the aftermath of a threat that is predicted to increase in frequency in many countries.",
keywords = "Catastrophic natural disasters, Interpretative phenomenological analysis, Posttraumatic growth, Posttraumatic stress, ‘Blow-up’ bushfires",
author = "Lynne McCormack and Tamra Sillick",
year = "2017",
month = "1",
day = "1",
doi = "10.2495/DMAN170091",
language = "English",
isbn = "9781784661885",
volume = "173",
pages = "89--102",
editor = "C.A. Brebbia",
booktitle = "WIT Transactions on the Built Environment",
publisher = "WITPress",

}

McCormack, L & Sillick, T 2017, Rebuilding lives: Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire. in CA Brebbia (ed.), WIT Transactions on the Built Environment: Disaster Management 2017. vol. 173, WITPress, Southampton, United Kingdom, pp. 89-102. https://doi.org/10.2495/DMAN170091

Rebuilding lives : Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire. / McCormack, Lynne; Sillick, Tamra.

WIT Transactions on the Built Environment: Disaster Management 2017. ed. / C.A. Brebbia. Vol. 173 Southampton, United Kingdom : WITPress, 2017. p. 89-102.

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapter

TY - CHAP

T1 - Rebuilding lives

T2 - Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire

AU - McCormack, Lynne

AU - Sillick, Tamra

PY - 2017/1/1

Y1 - 2017/1/1

N2 - Catastrophic natural disasters such as a ‘blow-up’ bushfire have the capacity to overwhelm authorities, ambush escape routes for humans and animals trying to flee, and destroy communities in minutes. They are increasing in frequency as the global temperature continues to rise. Despite the physical and material risks, such terrorising events are psychologically confronting and can leave individuals with traumatic distress, even psychopathology. However, little research explores the subjective interpretation of those who have been impacted physically, psychologically and financially by a catastrophic bushfire. The ‘lived’ experience of six participants was explored and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four themes emerged: surviving the terror; on patrol and guilty; no longer me/no longer us; and personal renaissance; which capture the participants’ ongoing trajectory of survival, selfinterrogation, and a search for meaning and reconnection with loved ones and community. However, in the immediate period post-fire, career goals, child/parent relations, intimate relationship, and sense of community belonging were unexpectedly and negatively impacted. New perspectives were forced onto old relationships compelling these individuals to confront ‘self’. Complicating recovery was a sense of betrayal at being let down, even abandoned, by first responders. Trust diminished as society quickly lost interest in their plight and it was no longer headline news. This was further compounded when financial reparation proved grossly inadequate. Slowly, acceptance of a lone journey emerged whereby the participants began to redefine life differently, examining prior roles and expectations. This positive shift in interpretation promoted positive change: increased empathy, love, and gratitude. A decade later they were able to identify that trust-in-a-future had re-emerged. This study highlights the complexity of distress and recovery for these participants and suggests community preparation and support, including financial and psychological support, is currently challenged in the aftermath of a threat that is predicted to increase in frequency in many countries.

AB - Catastrophic natural disasters such as a ‘blow-up’ bushfire have the capacity to overwhelm authorities, ambush escape routes for humans and animals trying to flee, and destroy communities in minutes. They are increasing in frequency as the global temperature continues to rise. Despite the physical and material risks, such terrorising events are psychologically confronting and can leave individuals with traumatic distress, even psychopathology. However, little research explores the subjective interpretation of those who have been impacted physically, psychologically and financially by a catastrophic bushfire. The ‘lived’ experience of six participants was explored and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four themes emerged: surviving the terror; on patrol and guilty; no longer me/no longer us; and personal renaissance; which capture the participants’ ongoing trajectory of survival, selfinterrogation, and a search for meaning and reconnection with loved ones and community. However, in the immediate period post-fire, career goals, child/parent relations, intimate relationship, and sense of community belonging were unexpectedly and negatively impacted. New perspectives were forced onto old relationships compelling these individuals to confront ‘self’. Complicating recovery was a sense of betrayal at being let down, even abandoned, by first responders. Trust diminished as society quickly lost interest in their plight and it was no longer headline news. This was further compounded when financial reparation proved grossly inadequate. Slowly, acceptance of a lone journey emerged whereby the participants began to redefine life differently, examining prior roles and expectations. This positive shift in interpretation promoted positive change: increased empathy, love, and gratitude. A decade later they were able to identify that trust-in-a-future had re-emerged. This study highlights the complexity of distress and recovery for these participants and suggests community preparation and support, including financial and psychological support, is currently challenged in the aftermath of a threat that is predicted to increase in frequency in many countries.

KW - Catastrophic natural disasters

KW - Interpretative phenomenological analysis

KW - Posttraumatic growth

KW - Posttraumatic stress

KW - ‘Blow-up’ bushfires

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85031301598&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.2495/DMAN170091

DO - 10.2495/DMAN170091

M3 - Chapter

SN - 9781784661885

VL - 173

SP - 89

EP - 102

BT - WIT Transactions on the Built Environment

A2 - Brebbia, C.A.

PB - WITPress

CY - Southampton, United Kingdom

ER -

McCormack L, Sillick T. Rebuilding lives: Psychological trauma and growth in the aftermath of a catastrophic Australian bushfire. In Brebbia CA, editor, WIT Transactions on the Built Environment: Disaster Management 2017. Vol. 173. Southampton, United Kingdom: WITPress. 2017. p. 89-102 https://doi.org/10.2495/DMAN170091