Psychological Impacts

The aim of the Psychological Impacts research stream of the Hazelwood Health Study is to investigate associations between exposure to smoke from the Hazelwood coal mine fire and psychological trauma and distress. The stream examines psychological impacts broadly across people living in Morwell and surrounding districts, which includes surveying adults, children and families, and conducting analyses of administrative databases that record local health, educational, and social outcomes. As the community moves forward from the mine fire event, the stream also seeks to understand the community's recovery, resilience, and social wellbeing.

The following video clip is an excerpt from the 2021 Community Briefing providing an update on the current status and future plans for the Psychological Impacts stream.

Impacts on adults                    

The Adult Survey, originally completed by more than 4,000 adults living in Morwell and Sale, included an assessment of mental health, measuring psychological distress generally, the psychological impact of the mine fire event specifically, exposures to other traumatic situations, as well as diagnosed mental health conditions. The Psychological Impacts research stream follows up Adult Survey participants periodically, conducting further surveys and interviews which enable the research team to determine the long-term impact of the mine fire on mental health, and to track how well people are recovering over time. The first follow-up survey took place in the summer of 2019-2020, with the next survey planned for later in 2022 - see current activities below.

Impacts on children                 

The Schools Study focused on the impacts on school-aged children. The study adopted a range of approaches to understand psychological outcomes arising from the mine fire event for children who were school-aged at the time. This included interviews conducted with both primary and secondary school students, as well as with parents and teachers. In addition to investigating psychological outcomes for school-aged children, the Psychological Impacts research has used NAPLAN to examine whether disruption to schools associated with the mine fire event has subsequently affected educational outcomes for students. No new data collection is planned for the Schools Study. Two news stories on the release of Schools Study findings are provided at the bottom of this page.

Current activities                      

The Psychological Impacts research stream has recently completed resurveying of Adult Survey participants to look at ongoing wellbeing. The Adult Survey Follow-up took place in the summer of 2019-2020 and was completed by over 700 people who were resident in Morwell at the time of the mine fire, repeating some of the core psychological measures from the original survey along with new measures including resilience and social isolation. The first report from this work was released in late 2020, with further analysis and reporting continuing (see Study Findings below). This survey will be repeated later in 2022 to assess ongoing wellbeing following the mine fire.

In addition, the Psychological Impacts research stream is working with the Community Wellbeing research stream to look at the relationship between individual wellbeing and community wellbeing in the Morwell. This study is being approached in two ways: measures of current community wellbeing, and of change in community wellbeing since the mine fire, were included in the Adult Survey Follow-up; questions relating to individual wellbeing which were included in the interviews completed by the Community Wellbeing research stream in 2021. This work will be repeated as the study progresses.

The stream is also working with the Early Life Follow-up stream to look at ongoing health and wellbeing in ELF families. A survey of ELF families is expected to take place early in 2022 and repeated again 2 years later.

The study team                         

The Psychological Impacts research stream is led by Dr Matthew Carroll who is based at the Monash Rural Health site at Churchill in the Latrobe Valley. Professor Darryl Maybery from the Monash Rural Health office at Warragul and Dr Emily Berger from the School of Educational Psychology & Counselling in the Monash Faculty of Education in Clayton work closely with Dr Carroll on all aspects of the study. Mr Tim Campbell is the stream Research Assistant and is also based at the Monash Rural Health Churchill office. Mr David Poland is the HHS Administrative Officer for Gippsland and provides support to the stream. Professor Sandy McFarlane from the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide provides high level advice to the stream and regularly participates in research activity.

Study findings                           

December 2021 - Impacts of coal mine fire-related PM2.5 on the utilisation of ambulance and hospital services for mental health conditions (in collaboration with Hazelinks stream)
April 2021 - Evaluating the impact of the Hazelwood mine fire event on students' educational development
December 2020 - The ongoing psychological health in adults six years after 2014 mine fire
June 2020 - The impact of a mine fire and smoke event on academic outcomes for Primary and Secondary School students
December 2019 - Long term psychological health following the Hazelwood mine fire
March 2019 - The ongoing experiences of students following the Hazelwood mine fire
November 2018 - Adult Psychological outcomes following the Hazelwood mine fire: A mixed methods study
September 2018 - Children’s perspectives on the impact of the Hazelwood mine fire and subsequent smoke event
August 2018 - Interviews with Morwell residents about their experiences of the Hazelwood coal mine fire

Local news stories regarding the stream activities

WIN News Gippsland story on Thursday, 29 June 2017 regarding the release of Schools Study findings

WIN News Gippsland story on Tuesday, 1 September 2015 regarding the rollout of the Schools Study survey to 20 schools across the Latrobe Valley.