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How the bushfire crisis is affecting general health and wellbeing

How the bushfire crisis is affecting general health and wellbeing

More than half of Australians have been directly affected by the current bushfire crisis, according to a new survey.

How the bushfire crisis is affecting general health and wellbeing

The Australia Institute surveyed more than 1,000 adults about direct experience of bushfires and smoke over the last three months, and found that 57 per cent of Australians were affected in some way by the fires, including their health being impacted.

So what does the survey reveal about how the fires are affecting everyday health?

Smoke haze illness

Twenty-six per cent of survey participants said they suffered illness or health effects because of smoke haze, such as breathing or respiratory issues.

According to experts, it could be years before we fully understand the health impacts of the exposure to bushfire smoke.

The Australian Government has announced funding to research the physiological impacts of prolonged bushfire smoke exposures. A team of pollution experts from the University of New South Wales also plans to investigate the long-term health impacts of bushfire smoke.

Change of routine

About 33 per cent of people said they had changed their usual routine in some way due to bushfire smoke, which included avoiding doing exercise outdoors. People who have been forced to stay indoors are missing out on multiple health benefits.

Breathing in fresh air can increase energy, help with relaxation, aid digestion and even strengthen your immune system. Additionally, research shows exercising outdoors causes people to work out for longer and burn more calories, and improves happiness while reducing stress.

Mental health issues

The emotional toll on those in bushfire-affected communities is hard to fathom. The Australian Government has committed $76 million to allow immediate access to increased mental health services for communities devastated by the bushfire season. Human fatalities, destruction of wildlife, and loss of homes and property are major causes for psychological distress.

The Australia Institute survey also offers some insight into the mental health toll on Australians. About 8 per cent of respondents said their home or property was unsuitable to live in. The loss of a home is a major risk factor for mental illness, as well as eroded social networks with communities dispersing amid evacuations.

With 15 per cent of respondents having to change or cancel holiday or travel plans due to the fires, this has consequences for tourism, business and jobs, adding to stress for those in fire-affected communities. About 12 per cent of people said a usual place of business or leisure was closed due to smoke haze or bushfires, and 9 per cent said they had to miss work – all factors that can increase stress and anxiety.

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