Life after bushfire: Post-traumatic stress, coping, post-traumatic growth


post-traumatic stress
post-traumatic growth

How to Cite

Hooper J, Magor-Blatch L, Bhullar N. Life after bushfire: Post-traumatic stress, coping, post-traumatic growth. Australasian Journal of Paramedicine [Internet]. 2018Aug.5 [cited 2022Aug.19];15(3). Available from:



Research suggests that post-traumatic stress (PTS) symptoms are common after the experience of bushfire. However, the ways in which individuals cope with, positively grow from, and find benefit in the adverse circumstances of bushfire in Australia has not been adequately explored. The main objective of this study is to assess the relationship between PTS, coping strategies and post-traumatic growth, in a sample of Australian community members affected by a bushfire event.


Sixty-five participants (mean age 40.66 years, SD=13.57), who had previously experienced a bushfire event in Australia, responded to an anonymous online survey.


Results indicated that greater PTS was associated with the use of all coping strategies, as well as higher levels of post-traumatic growth. The use of coping strategies was associated with higher levels of post-traumatic growth. Hierarchical regression analyses found that post-traumatic growth and avoidant coping explained significant amounts of unique variance in PTS, whereas PTS and emotion-focussed coping explained significant amounts of unique variance in post-traumatic growth.


In communities that are seasonally threatened by bushfires, our findings suggest that not only are post-disaster stress reduction interventions required, but so too are preparedness programs that include strategies for promoting growth and positive adaptation. It is suggested further research should address implications for strength-based preparedness and recovery programs in bushfire prone areas.


Dutta R, Das A, Aryal J. Big data integration shows Australian bush-fire frequency is increasing significantly. R Soc Open Sci 2016;3:150241.

Macdonald E, Citraningtyas T, Raphael B. Disaster experience in the context of life: perspectives five to six years after the 2003 Canberra Bushfire. Journal of Emergency Primary Health Care 2010;8(2).

McFarlane AC. An Australian disaster: the 1983 bushfires. Int J Ment Health 1990;19:36–47.

Gibbs L, Bryant R, Harms L, et al. Beyond Bushfires: Community Resilience and Recovery Final Report. University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; 2016.

Armstrong D, Shakespeare-Finch J, Shochet I. Predicting post-traumatic growth and post-traumatic stress in firefighters. Aust J Psychol 2014;66:3846. doi: 10.1111/ajpy.12032

Forbes D, Creamer M. Psychological support and treatment for victims of Victoria’s bushfires. InPsych: The Bulletin of the Australian Psychological Society 2009;31:10–11.

McFarlane AC, Clayer JR, Bookless CL. Psychiatric morbidity following a natural disaster: an Australian bushfire. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 1997;32:261–8. doi: 10.1007/bf00789038

Macdonald E. Mental health needs post-disaster: supporting recovery of children and families. Aust Occup Ther J 2009;56:79–80. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1630.2009.00791.x

Antai-Otong D. Pharmacologic management of posttraumatic stress disorder. Perspect Psychiatr Care 2007;43:55–59. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6163.2007.00096.x

Yelland C, Robinson P, Lock C, et al. Bushfire impact on youth. J Trauma Stress 2010;23:274–7. doi: 10.1002/jts.2052110.

Pooley JA, Cohen L, O’Connor M. Bushfire communities and resilience: what can they tell us? Australian Journal of Emergency Management 2010;25:33–8.

Tedeschi R, Calhoun L. The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma. J Trauma Stress 1996;9:455–71. doi: 10.1007/bf02103658

Bucks RS, Cruise KE, Skinner TC, et al. Coping processes and health-related quality of life in parkinson’s disease. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2011;26:247–255. doi: 10.1002/gps.2520

Carver CS. You want to measure coping but your protocol’s too long: Consider the Brief COPE. Int J Behav Med 1997;4:92–100. doi: 10.1207/s15327558ijbm0401_6

Lazarus RS, Folkman S. Stress appraisal and coping. New York: Springer Publishing Company; 1984.

Schnider KR, Elhai JD, Gray MJ. Coping style use predicts posttraumatic stress and complicated grief symptom severity among college students reporting a traumatic loss. J Couns Psychol 2007;54:344–50. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.54.3.344

Scrignaro M, Barni S, Magrin ME. The combined contribution of social support and coping strategies in predicting post-traumatic growth: a longitudinal study on cancer patients. Psycho-Oncology 2011;20:823–31. doi: 10.1002/pon.1782

Büssing A, Ostermann T, Neugebauer EAM, Heusser P. Adaptive coping strategies in patients with chronic pain conditions and their interpretation of disease. BMC Public Health 2010;10:507–16. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-507

Carver CS, Weintraub JK, Scheier MK. Assessing coping strategies: a theoretically based approach. J Pers Soc Psychol 1989;56:267–283. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.56.2.267

Butler LD, Blasey CM, Garlan RW, et al. Posttraumatic growth following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001: cognitive, coping, and trauma symptom predictors in an internet convenience sample. Traumatology 2005;11:247–67. doi: 10.1177/153476560501100405

Pooley JA, Cohen L, O’Connor M, Taylor M. Posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth and their relationship to coping and self-efficacy in Northwest Australian cyclone communities. Psychol Trauma 2013;5:392–9. doi: 10.1037/a0028046

Chang CM, Lee LC, Connor KM, Davidson JRT, Jeffries K, Lai TJ. Posttraumatic distress and coping strategies among rescue workers after an earthquake. J Nerv Ment Dis 2003;191:391–8. doi: 10.1097/01.nmd.0000071588.73571.3d

Holaday M, Warren-Miller G, Smith A, Yost TE. A comparison of on-the-scene coping mechanisms used by two culturally different groups. Couns Psychol Q 1995;8:81–88. doi: 10.1080/09515079508258699

Wild ND, Paivio SC. Psychological adjustment, coping, and emotion regulation as predictors of posttraumatic growth. J Aggress Maltreat Trauma 2004;8:97–122. doi: 10.1300/J146v08n04_05

Samios C, Hollows K. Finding benefits in the aftermath of Australia’s Black Saturday bushfires: can distant witnesses find benefits and do benefits found relate to better adjustment? Traumatology 2012;18:27–36. doi: 10.1177/1534765612437379

Bower JE, Moskowitz JT, Epel E. Is benefit finding good for your health? Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2009;18:337–41. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01663.x

Cryder C, Kilmer R, Tedeschi R, Calhoun L. An exploratory study of posttraumatic growth in children following a natural disaster. Am J Orthopsychiatry 2006;76:65–9. doi: 10.1037/0002-9432.76.1.65

Calhoun L, Tedeschi,R. Beyond recovery from trauma: implications for clinical practice and research. J Soc Issues 1998;54:357–71. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1998.tb01223.x

Helgeson VS, Reynolds KA, Tomich PL. A meta-analytic review of benefit finding and growth. J Consult Clin Psychol 2006;74:797–816. doi: 10.1037/0022-006X.74.5.797

Aspinwall L, Tedeschi R. The value of positive psychology for health psychology: progress and pitfalls in examining the relation of positive phenomena to health. Ann Behav Med 2010;39:4–15. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9153-0

Shakespeare-Finch J, Copping A. A grounded theory approach to understanding cultural differences in posttraumatic growth. J Loss Trauma 2006;11:355–71. doi: 10.1080/15325020600671949

Taylor SE. Adjustment to threatening events: a theory of cognitive events. Am Psychol 1983;38:1161–73. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.38.11.1161

Spurrell MT, McFarlane AC. Post-traumatic stress disorder and coping after a natural disaster. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 1993;28:194–200. doi: 10.1007/bf00797323

Janoff-Bulman R. Assumptive worlds and the stress of traumatic events: Applications of the schema construct. Soc Cogn 1989;7:113–136. doi: 10.1521/soco.1989.7.2.113

Lilly MM, Valdez CE, Graham-Bermann SA. The mediating effect of world assumptions on the relationship between trauma exposure and depression. J Interpers Violence 2011;26:2499–516. doi: 10.1177/0886260510383033

Linley PA, Joseph S. Positive change following trauma and adversity: a review. J Trauma Stress 2004;17:11–21. doi: 10.1023/B:JOTS.0000014671.27856.7e

Karanci NA, Acarturk C. Post-traumatic growth among Marmara earthquake survivors involved in disaster preparedness as volunteers. Traumatology 2005;11:307–23. doi: 10.1177/153476560501100409

Weiss DS, Marmar CR. The impact of event scale-revised. In: Wilson JP, Keane TM (editors). Assessing Psychological Trauma and PTSD: A Practitioner’s Handbook, 1997. New York: Guilford Press.

Taku K, Cann A, Calhoun L, Tedeschi R. The factor structure of the posttraumatic growth inventory: a comparison of five models using confirmatory factor analysis. J Trauma Stress 2008;21:158–64. doi: 10.1002/jts.20305

IBM Corp. IBM SPSS statistics for Windows version 21.0. Armonk, NY: IBM Corp; 2012.

Field A. Discovering statistics using SPSS. London: SAGE Publications, 2007.

Berry WD, Feldman S. Multiple regression in practice: SAGE Publications, 1985.

Stevens J. Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.

Eriksen C, Gill N. Bushfire and everyday life: examining the awareness-action ‘gap’ in changing rural landscapes. Geoforum 2010;41:814–25. doi: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2010.05.004.

Tedeschi R, McNally R. Can we facilitate posttraumatic growth in combat veterans? Am Psychol 2011;66:19–24. doi: 10.1037/a0021896.

Paterson H, Whittle K, Kemp R. Detrimental effects of post-Incident debriefing on memory and psychological responses. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 2014;1–11. doi: 10.1007/s11896-014-9141-6.