Coping with the loss of animals after a disaster

Were you deeply impacted by the large number of animals lost in the Australian bushfires? Here’s how this type of event can affect your mental health, and what you can do to cope.

A natural disaster such as the recent Australian bushfires results not only in harm to humans and infrastructure, but animals and the environment as well. At the time of this writing, a staggering 1 billion animals are estimated to have died from the fires1. Despite rescue efforts, tens of thousands of koalas were lost on one island alone. Exposure to this type of extreme loss can have a severe impact on your mental health, regardless of whether you’re exposed primarily or secondarily, through personal loss or stories in the media.

Exposure to this type of extreme loss can result in a sense of powerlessness and helplessness, especially if you have a very close connection to animals and the environment. The emotional costs of caring can also include:

  • anxiety or fear – often brought on by thinking about the animals and their plight
  • guilt – stemming from the idea that the fires were a result of human action
  • anger and rage towards those who might have caused this disaster
  • survivor guilt – a sense that more should have been done to prevent the animal loss or suffering
  • sadness, which can lead to a depressed state
  • overwhelming compassion fatigue2

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned after a disaster, it’s important to look after yourself. Various resources and outlets are available to animal lovers, and can help you cope with your feelings in a healthy way. These include online forums, talking to a friend or loved one, volunteering at a local animal shelter, donating to a charity that’s working with the animals impacted by the fire, practicing meditation and mindfulness, and limiting your exposure to certain media outlets.

The Disaster Distress Helpline is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

1https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/01/08/australian-fires-over-1-billion-animals-feared-dead-experts-say/2845084001/

2Figley, C. R. & Roop, R. (2006) Compassion Fatigue in the Animal Care Community. Washington, DC: Humane Society Press.