British Columbia

Stressed and tired? It may be lingering mental health impacts from 2017 wildfires

Thousands of people were displaced from their homes as wildfires raged through B.C. this time last year, making it a difficult anniversary to process as wildfires flare up again this summer.

Canadian Mental Health Association launching new helpline to reach those affected

2017 was the worst B.C. wildfire season on record. (B.C. Wildfire Service)

The Canadian Mental Health Association is launching a new helpline as part of an attempt to reach people experiencing symptoms of trauma one year after B.C.'s most devastating wildfire season to date.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes last summer as wildfires raged through the province, making it a difficult anniversary to process for many as wildfires begin to flare up again.

"There are people who, a year later, are back home or they've relocated somewhere permanently, but they are still just not feeling like themselves," said Maya Russell, director of community engagement for the B.C. branch of the charity.

More than 45,000 people in B.C. were displaced during last summers's wildfires.

"One of the most stressful events that people can experience is displacement and evacuations," Russell said. "It actually makes a lot of sense that it would stick with you for a long time." 

Communities across the province were impacted by the fires. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

'Hard to shake'

People might not expect to still be feeling the impact of the fires months after the fact, Russell told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

"The stress can be really hard to shake," Russell said.

"They may not be connecting it to the wildfires at all, but they may find they're snapping at their spouse or biting their kids' heads off or they're just feeling very sad and haven't been able to shake those feelings, or [they're] just really tired."

As more wildfires flare up across the province this summer, Russell is concerned that people may be triggered and have flashbacks from last year.

"They are going to be seeing those plumes of smoke and the media coverage," she said. 

"That can all put your brain right back into that alarmed state … just seeing that happen in other communities could be triggering."

The new helpline Talk in Tough Times, run in partnership with the B.C. government and community groups, aims to help those affected by the 2017 wildfires recognize signs of mental health effects and learn techniques to deal with them.

"It's a way that people can take charge of their own mental health and feel like they are in charge of their own feelings again," she said. 

You can call the Talk in Tough Times tele-health program at 1-877-427-4884.

For 24-hour crisis help, call 1-800-784-2433.

With files from Daybreak North

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