2013 flood still taking mental health toll for High River families, study suggests
'It impacted their psychological health often leading to relationship conflict and strain'
A major disaster like the flood that devastated parts of Alberta five years ago can have a long-term psychological impact, a Calgary expert says.
Dr. Caroline McDonald-Harker, a professor of sociology at Mount Royal University's Centre for Community Disaster Research, said a disaster creates mental health challenges.
Her study examined the impact of the 2013 flood on families that were affected by the disaster in High River.
"Over half of families are still suffering with some long-term effects, whether that be post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression, or anxiety," McDonald-Harker told CBC News.
"It impacted their psychological health often leading to relationship conflict and strain. However families who sought help from outside sources had better coping, communication and conflict resolution skills."
McDonald-Harker said it can take several years before disaster victims even notice the mental toll the event has taken on them.
"In the first three years, a lot of families focus on rebuilding their homes, getting their properties back in order and often times they don't deal with some of those psychological impacts they are experiencing. They put it off and put it off," she said.
"Unfortunately at that point, there is not as much funding and there are not as many resources, services and supports available for families to deal with the long-term mental health impacts."
She said research indicates the psychological effects are present for as long as 10 years after the event.
The study used a qualitative research methodology that included 151 participants, 105 in-person interviews and eight focus group interviewers with 46 key community representatives from local non-profit organizations in High River.
High River was inundated when the Highwood River overran its banks in June 2013. Three lives were lost, about 13,000 people were forced from their homes and thousands of residences were damaged.
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