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Mental health after the 2017 wildfires in the South Cariboo

‘We can draw strength from each other’
Talk In Tough Times photo.

For those affected by last summer’s wildfires, physical healing and structural restoration is only the beginning.

Stress caused by such a traumatic experience can have long-lasting mental health impacts, especially when left unchecked.

Laura Dewar knows this first hand. She was evacuated twice from her house on Green Lake.

Now the community wellness manager for United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo, Dewar said July 6, 7, 8 is when things “went sideways” in 100 Mile.

While the recent rain may be helping, a lot of people still struggle every day with fearing the unknown.

It’s not a pleasant memory for anyone and she said there are those still suffering.

“Certainly the majority of people are able to recuperate in their own way. We’re mainly very resilient.”

But she said we have to consider that people have difficult past experiences or have other stresses in their life that makes it difficult to cope.

For these people, the wildfires could have been the final straw to break the camel’s back, she said.

“We’ve got to make sure that they’ve got the support they need to develop resiliency.”

RELATED: Industries rebounding in the South Cariboo after 2017 wildfires

In 100 Mile House, she said we are fortunate with the number of resources available.

There’s the Canadian Mental Health Association, a local government office, a ministry for child and family development, a women’s centre, axis family services, the Cedar Crest Society and many counsellors.

But even these resources were hit hard by the wildfires - these people were also evacuated and had a much higher volume of cases when they returned.

“We also worry about the people who are supposed to be taking care of us, the mental health clinicians,” she said.

They want to make sure they have enough support and help to do their jobs, she said. “We have to care for the caretakers.”

The Red Cross and the provincial government helped provide funding for these agencies, according to Dewar.

They also helped the United Way create her role along with three others like it in Ashcroft, Williams Lake and Quesnel, to offer mental health support for those struggling to move forward from the wildfires.

Dewar said they recently received the necessary funding to hold an event commemorating the anniversary of the wildfires.

Dewar, who comes from a research background, said there’s a lot of data showing that people have a better mental wellness when they are in a group and “we can draw strength from each other.”

Susan Collins, the executive director of the CMHA, said she knows there are many people who still experience anxiety when they see smoke or hear helicopters. Much like the anniversary date itself, things like that can become a trigger causing people to become stressed out or irritable.

Collins said there is a Facebook page created specifically for people impacted by wildfires, called Talk In Tough Times. It helps to direct people to the appropriate support depending on their needs.

“It’s really important for people to just be gentle with themselves,” she said, “and just understand that it’s normal to feel stressed in reaction to something that was scary and could happen again.”

The Wildfire Resiliency Celebration will take place on Sunday, July 15. It will be free and will include activities for children and adults alike so everyone can talk about their experiences and even have the opportunity to laugh about some things that happened.

The event is intended to be therapeutic as well as encourage people to get together and replace memories of fear with those of fun.

Dewar said the date was chosen because there is a wildfire recovery cruise starting on July 8, to stimulate the economy around the main highway affected by the fires. The cruise will be pulling into 100 Mile on the 13th.

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