Imagine waking up in darkness. You look at the clock on the nightstand, but it's not on. You get out of bed and turn on the light switch; you flip it up and down but there's no light. The power's out. You're eyes feel dry and burn and you smell smoke. You run into the hall to find where it's coming from. As you run past the window, a bright light catches your eye. Getting closer you think the neighbour's house is on fire. You put on your jacket and run outside for a closer look.
Smoke surrounds and disorients you, and you're confused by it's thickness. Coughing, you join a crowd gathering in the oddly lit street. Sirens blare and you feel relieved that help is on it's way, but you wonder why they haven't reached your area when you live in such a small town. Turning in the direction of the sirens you notice it's not the neighbour's house but an entire row of houses on the opposite street and the trees behind them. You turn to a man in the crowd and ask what happened. He stares at you with a blank expression on his face and says "the forest is on fire."
Natural disasters occur almost daily, so much so that many people become desensitized by reports of the economic toll and loss of life. But seldom do we hear about the the mental and emotional effects these events have on the people who live through them.
"Whether by earthquake or tsunami, nuclear mishap or transportation, mass shooting or bombing attack, disasters have in common a collective social suffering that requires a supreme effort by individuals, communities, and even entire societies to overcome. They are events that challenge the individual's capacity for adaptation, which can lead to the onset of a range of adverse mental health outcomes, including serious post-traumatic psychopathologies.
These may often persist for a very long time after the event and represent a further burden to individuals whose physical and emotional resources have already been depleted by their losses" (Davidson & McFarlane, 2006, p. 9).
In the wake of the recent fires in Slave Lake it is important to provide emotional and mental health services to those rebuilding their lives after experiencing the trauma of this disaster. For more resources on coping with disasters or traumatic events, visit the Centre for Disease Control