Peter Skene Ogden (PSO) Secondary School has seen a rise in incidents involving mental health, like anxiety.
“The issues from where I sit, the number of increasing incidences of mental health – anxiety and other mental issues we’re dealing with- have far outstripped anything we’ve seen before,” said Geoff Butcher, principal of the school. “We deal with this issue daily here.”
He’s not sure how many of the incidences are directly connected with the wildfires or just society in general but has said he has seen a rise in students who are choosing to be homeschooled instead and students seeking help from Child and Youth Mental Health Services outside of school due to their inability to cope.
“Their ability to cope is probably been affected by the ability to find people to help them,” said Butcher. “Students often don’t know where their anxiety comes from just that they are [stressed] and for them to make the cognitive leap to because of the fires, I don’t know how far they go in depth to where the anxiety comes from but it definitely has an impact.”
Butcher also mentioned that some students are having panic attacks severe enough to prevent the students from coming to school and the school has also seen suicidal ideation issues more so than before.
The school’s Child and Youth Committee asked for more funding for another youth counsellor, something Butcher supports. Butcher also said the staff has been trained to help students by teaching them coping mechanisms and are trying to work on and recognizing trauma and mental illness within students.
Several presentations spearheaded by the PSO’s Parents Advisory Committee (PAC), focusing on how to cope with anxiety will be happening through the month in the community, starting on March 11 at the 100 Mile House Community Hall at 6 p.m. The guest speaker will be Kristin Buhr, a registered psychologist and the director of the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic.
“I think it’s absolutely critical. Everywhere I’ve gone – it doesn’t matter where I go – people are still not just talking about the fires [but] they are going ‘I don’t even want spring to come.’ There are people still totally reacting to seeing any kind of smoke plumes or anything like that. The different organizations in town are saying we’re seeing an escalation of stress in people,” said Aleta Bryan, the organizer of the event and the chair of the PAC.
Bryan also mentioned a past workshop facilitated by Val O’Leary, the founder of Critical Incident Stress Managment (CSIM) for Communities who worked in Fort McMurray during the aftermath of the fires there, focusing on helping people deal with the traumatic events. According to Bryan, O’Leary said that anniversary dates are a big trigger for stress with suicides, divorces, PTSD and depression escalating.
Studies have backed up her sentiments. A University of Alberta psychiatry department study found that post-traumatic stress disorder was present in 12.8 per cent of a sample size of 486 adults surveyed in Fort McMurray. In an interview with the Canadian Press, the researcher, Vincent Agyapong, said that the rate of the population suffering from depression would also be high.
O’Leary’s advice to the workshop was for people to do whatever they can as much as they can to keep the community together and help people process the events of the fire in a healthy manner, setting the stage for this celebration which will also be supported by the Red Cross B.C. Fires 2017 Community Partnerships and other local organizations.
Bryan had her own adversity during the wildfires. She was in Vancouver for a few days waiting to bring her husband home for a visit when she got a call from her landlord asking if she had heard about what was going on and told her she should hold back on coming back. They planned on waiting for two more days before driving back to 105 Mile Ranch as her husband finished off work commitments but then the landlord called again and told Bryan she had seen flames and they were headed to Bryan’s house.
“We threw everything together and we jumped into the vehicle and we got to Hope and the fire jumped the highway at [Clinton] and that access was closed to us,” recounts Bryan.
“And I lost it because my kids are all here and I just broke down. It was the most incredibly powerless feeling to know I’m this far away, how am I going to protect my kids? It was traumatic to be separated from my kids.”
Butcher, who was evacuated to the Shuswap, hopes parents and students alike come to the meeting and the school’s two assemblies with follow up sessions with Buhr.
“If parents are considered and want to know a little bit more about what this looks in a classroom and school setting they are welcome to view those assemblies as well,” he said.