Personal mental health plans needed after Fort McMurray wildfire, experts say

A Fort McMurray man who once struggled with suicidal thoughts in the aftermath of the 2016 wildfire says he has a mental health plan, and wants to encourage others to come up with one as well.

A Fort McMurray crisis-prevention society has taken 900 calls so far this year, compared to 400 in 2016

'I suffer from suicide ideations'

4 years ago
Fort McMurray's crisis hotline has been inundated with calls as the city edges the 18 month mark after a massive wildfire devastated parts of the city in May 2016. Many of those calls have been residents contemplating suicide. 1:27

A Fort McMurray man who once faced suicidal thoughts over the 2016 wildfire says he has a mental health plan and wants to encourage others who may be vulnerable to come up with one as well. 

Jay Telegdi said he had a hard time coping after he lost his home to the massive wildfire in May last year. He's healthier now but still has a mental health plan just in case.

"I have a whole bunch of friends, if needed, I can call or text and say, 'Hey, I am feeling down today. Can you come by and spend some time with me and help cheer me up? '" said Telegdi, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. 

"Or even worse like, 'Hey, I am thinking of hurting myself. Get over here ASAP.'" 

The fire forced him and about 90,000 others to evacuate the city.

The Fort McMurray crisis-prevention society, Some Other Solutions, said its crisis hotline has received 900 calls so far this year, compared to 400 in all of 2016. 

About 155 of them this year were about suicidal thoughts. In 2016, 54 calls were about suicidal thoughts. 


If you are struggling with mental health or have thoughts of suicide and live in the Fort McMurray area, call Some Other Solution's crisis hotline at 780-743-4357.

Alberta Health Services also said it has seen more people seeking mental health support after the wildfire.

Sandra Corbett, chief of psychiatry for Alberta Health Services' north zone, said 36,150 clients have asked for mental health help since May 2016. She noted that in-patient beds for people at risk of harming themselves are routinely full. 

Dr. Sandra Corbett says she has seen a spike in a range of mental health issues after the Fort McMurray wildfire. (David Thurton/ CBC)

Have a plan

Linda Sovdi, the health and wellness manager at Some Other Solutions, said anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should have a mental health plan.

She said early warning signs of suicide include thoughts of self-harm, excessive abuse of drugs and alcohol, reckless or high-risk behaviour and giving valuable possessions away.

"If someone has a physical or medical need, we wear alert bracelets," she said, adding mental illness should be treated similarly. 

Those with a history of mental illness or who work in industries where they could encounter trauma, such as healthcare, emergency response and journalism, should consider devising a plan.

Linda Sovdi is a manager at Fort McMurray's Some Other Solutions. (David Thurton/ CBC News)

The Canadian Mental Health Association's website has steps to guide people in creating mental health plans. A plan could include incorporating calming activities, listing reasons for living and having a list of people to call when feeling down. ​

The organization says people may develop plans on their own, and can get input from loved ones or mental health professionals. 

Talking about suicide shouldn't be different from discussing symptoms to watch for when someone has a physical health condition like diabetes, Sovdi said.

"Start the conversation and get the help that's required."

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitter or contact him via email.


David Thurton is a national reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He's worked for CBC in Fort McMurray, the Maritimes and in Canada's Arctic.