People who lose everything in a wildfire experience an emotional roller-coaster that can, in some cases, last for months and even years.
That’s according to Judith Kulig, a social scientist and professor at the University of Lethbridge who has studied the aftermath of four major fires in Western Canada, including the Slave Lake fire of 2011.
Speaking on the Jon McComb Show, Kulig described the emotions that people can deal with.
“It’s a whole range and will vary from person to person, but of course people are talking about the fact that it feels surreal, they can’t believe it’s happened. They’ve lost everything and they’ve just to come to terms with that.”
She says sometimes people will be doing okay and then they’ll wake up in the middle of the night and they’ll realize what it is that they’ve lost or remember something else that was in the home.
“And then if you put that within a family context, if you’re responsible for youth and children at the same time, then you’ve got to deal with their emotions as well. We know that parents that are more upset during evacuation that their kids will pick up on that emotion and won’t do as well.”
People that don’t do as well after disasters are referred to as ruminators. These are people that go back over the scenario again and again in their mind.
Kulig also says studies show that children who go through traumatic situations will have a harder time afterwards.
“They might have nightmares, they might be more clingy to their parents, They might concerned that they’ll lose their parents in some kind of future mishap.”
LISTEN to the full interview here:
Counselling and community support
She says what was learned from the Slave Lake study was that everyone, regardless of whether they lost their home or not, should have the opportunity to have mental health counselling.
“Mental health counselling is not always mental health counselling. Meaning that one of the things that went well in Slave Lake, they had a preexisting inter-ministerial church committee, and they just opened up the church and said ‘people just come by for coffee'”.
Kulig says even though it wasn’t advertised as counselling, ultimately some of the things they did were counselling. Slave Lake also had free evenings for families with free pizza and swimming at the local pool, which offered opportunities for the people in the community to get together.
But because of the severity of the fire in Fort McMurray, people are now scattered across the province and the country, and so adults need to be aware of symptoms to be concerned about so they can get the help they need for themselves and any of their family members.
The government of Canada has set up a dedicated public services page for the victims of the Alberta wildfires.