Province, Partners Support Community Mental Health after 2017 Wildfires

VICTORIA, BC--The Government of British Columbia and partners from non-profit agencies, local health authorities, First Nations governments and community organizations are joining forces to support people affected by the 2017 wildfires, to get the mental-health supports and services they need.

“Thousands of people were impacted by the devastating wildfires that were experienced across the province last year,” said Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Natural disasters can cause significant stress, and can lead to unexpected mental-health impacts. That’s why it is critically important that people are familiar with the mental-health supports and services in place to help them along their healing journey.”

This week, the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA BC) launched a targeted telehealth program, called Talk in Tough Times. The program is for youth and adults affected by the wildfires who are experiencing mild to moderate depression, low mood and/or stress, with or without anxiety.

“The willingness to reach out for help is a sign of strength,” said Laurence Lépine, safety and well-being manager, Canadian Red Cross. “It is the best way to maintain our ability to continue to fill our roles as parents, workers or community members during tough times. After a disaster, seeking support is necessary if your daily life is impacted by stress symptoms, like having trouble sleeping, eating too much or not at all, consuming too much alcohol or using substances more than usual, or just feeling overwhelmed. It is important to watch for this in ourselves, as well as our family and friends.”

The Province, in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association in B.C., First Nations Health Authority, Interior Health Authority, United Way, Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre and the Canadian Red Cross have launched a new, community-led Facebook page for Talk in Tough Times. This social media page provides a public forum for people affected by the 2017 wildfires. The page will be a place where people can learn about, and get connected to, available mental-health resources. To help ensure that British Columbians are aware of, and know how to access, the Talk in Tough Times telehealth program and other mental-health supports and services, the Facebook page will be used to promote key community events and supporting resources.

“Fleeing a fire and/or losing your property are some of the more traumatic events you can deal with. As we approach the spring and summer, past events may trigger some people, and they may be dealing with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and unhealthy substance use,” said Bev Gutray, CEO, CMHA BC. “We want those people to know that talking makes a difference, recovery is possible, and help is available.”

To provide additional support on the ground, the Province, working with community partners, has helped set up mental health and wellness working groups in Williams Lake, 100 Mile House, the Ashcroft area and Quesnel. To support the working groups, community wellness managers — hired by the United Way and funded by the Red Cross — are also in place. Both the working groups and wellness managers are providing co-ordination at the community level where mental-health and wellness supports are most in need.

“In particular, First Nations populations with pre-existing mental or physical health issues may see their symptoms intensify,” said Lisa Montgomery-Reid, regional director, Interior Region, First Nations Health Authority. “We know that in about 20% of cases, extra support is called for.”

In November 2017, the Province provided over $1 million to the First Nations Health Authority, to support 28 First Nations communities directly and indirectly affected by the 2017 wildfires. This funding, of $36,000 for each community, is being used to support mental-health services and planning for residents.