The long-term impact of bushfires on the mental health of Australians : a systematic review and meta-analysis

The long-term health effects of bushfires include the potential to trigger new and exacerbate existing mental health problems.

This review aimed to determine the prevalence of long-term mental health issues in Australian populations exposed to bushfires.

A systematic search was conducted in five databases (Embase, Medline, PsycINFO, Scopus, and Web of Science) to identify studies focusing on Australian populations impacted by bushfires with the prevalence of mental health issues reported at 2+ years after bushfire. The Joanna Briggs Institute prevalence critical appraisal tool was utilised. We conducted meta-analyses to determine the prevalence of general psychological distress in the general population, and a narrative synthesis.

We included 21 articles based on 5 studies and conducted on 3 bushfire events. Meta-analyses showed a pooled prevalence of 14% (95% CI 12%-16%) for psychological distress in the general population at 2–4 years post bushfire. The overall prevalence of long-term psychological problems in firefighters at 2–7 years ranged from 28% to 47.6%. The prevalence of some psychological issues decreased with time and was directly proportional to the level of bushfire impact.

As the magnitude of long-term bushfire-related mental health impacts in Australia is severe, it is important to monitor psychological problems and assist communities in future. Future research needs include: (a) more studies on the full range of long-term psychological impacts of bushfires, and (b) consensus on instruments and diagnostic criteria to define mental health issues.



  • First systematic review of long-term bushfire mental health issues in Australia.
  • Indicating substantial mental health problems among affected populations.
  • Long-term issues were linked to bushfire impact and elevated among firefighters.
  • Highlighting need for further rigorous research on long-term disaster sequalae.
Yanqin Zhang, Annabelle Workman, Melissa A. Russell, Michelle Williamson, Haotai Pan and Lennart Reifels | 2022
In: European Journal of Psychotraumatology ; ISSN: 2000-8066 | 13 | 1 | May | 2087980
Assessment, Australians, Burns, Diagnosis, Fires, Mental health, Meta Analysis, Natural Disasters, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychosocial support, PTSD (en), Stressors, Systematic Review