Care after crisis

Partnership: Thomas Berry and clinician Meredith Harriss are working together as part of a mental health program which is benefitting children who have been affected by the recent bushfires. Photo: supplied.

Partnership: Thomas Berry and clinician Meredith Harriss are working together as part of a mental health program which is benefitting children who have been affected by the recent bushfires. Photo: supplied.

Just a whiff of smoke is enough to trigger bushfire memories for brave five-year-old Thomas Berry.

The effects of the recent bushfires have been devastating for everyone, most of all the children who live on the Island.

And for Thomas, even the sight and smell of barbecue smoke is enough to spark memories and reactions which have caused some debilitating issues.

He now lives with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after he experienced days of uncertainty throughout the crisis, but with some great work by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), he is working his way through the condition.

During the catastrophic event, his guardians, great-grandparents Diane and James Heard, said Thomas had begged them to pack his suitcase and hurry to escape the fires.

"Our neighbour came into the house telling us we had to evacuate and Thomas was quite hysterical," James said.

"He was so scared he asked us to pack him a suitcase and was ready to leave.".

The Kingscote couple said Thomas began displaying behavioural problems soon after.

As part of the Island's recovery process, the decision was made for CAMHS to provide help and support for children and youth on the Island who were experiencing mental health issues.

Clinical staff were deployed to provide screening, assessment and early intervention for children who were at risk of experiencing longer-term impacts to their mental health and wellbeing.

One of those clinicians was Meredith Harriss, who has been working with Thomas to help him deal with his issues.

Experiences: James Heard and his great-grandson James Berry visit the local Country Fire Service as part of a de-sensitizing program. Photo: supplied.

Experiences: James Heard and his great-grandson James Berry visit the local Country Fire Service as part of a de-sensitizing program. Photo: supplied.

Meredith said Thomas' guardian were distressed as they thought the change of behaviour in their great-grandson was their fault.

Thomas was clearly traumatised by the bushfires and his behaviour was reflecting that," she said.

"We identified that Thomas had significant mental health impacts as a result of the bushfires and have been working with him to help with that."

The work Thomas and Meredith continue to do include various therapy sessions as well as de-sensitisation exercises, such as visiting the local Country Fire Service station.

Thomas' great-grandfather James said the family was grateful to be able to work with Meredith as it was making a difference.

"Meredith has been very good, strongly helping both Thomas and Diane understand the effects of the bushfires," James said.

"He's a highly intelligent little boy and is always thinking, and Meredith has shown us clearly why Thomas has been acting certain ways."

- Details: For more information on the CAMHS program phone 1300 222 647.

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