Therapist: Validate emotions of people affected by High Park Fire
GREELEY, Colo. (June 13, 2012) –The High Park Fire’s effect on mental health will impact different people in different ways. Most importantly, according to Banner Health licensed marriage and family therapist Renee Rogers, people should know that their emotions today – mad, sad, anxious or otherwise – are expected and normal.
Right now the greatest help people can offer is to be with those who are affected by the fire, said Rogers, clinic manager for outpatient behavioral health at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley.
“Today, people need to feel and think whatever they need to feel and think and that is an appropriate reaction to whatever their experience is in this fire.” She said rather than speak, she would listen to those affected. “Ask them how they are doing? What are they thinking? What are they feeling?
“Telling their story can be helpful,” she said.
She said to make sure people know their reactions are normal. Other reactions might be grumpiness, poor sleep, overeating or not taking care of themselves. Reactions can last for several weeks.
In a few months, if those people are still feeling fearful, anxious or stressed, they should visit with a mental health professional to process through the trauma.
If you know someone who is directly affected by the fire and you want to help, Rogers noted that general questions aren’t as helpful as we might think. “Don’t ask ‘How can I help?’ or ‘How are you?’ They will say they are fine.”
Instead, she recommended that you offer specific things. Offer to bring frozen meals so the family has something to eat when they need it. Offer housing or specific assistance.
Stress related to the fire will affect people across a continuum. Firefighters have experience and know the intensity of the work schedule. They need to practice good self care in terms of sleeping and eating, and typically have time built into their schedule to replenish after the fire is over.
Some people are inconvenienced by changes in schedules or cancellations of outdoor events due to poor air quality. Then there are people who empathize with others affected by the fire. They can feel powerless and sadness about other people’s loss, or they may have a high level of curiosity and want to know what’s going on or what they can do to help.
Others may personally know people directly impacted by the fire, and ultimately there are those who have been evacuated, lost a home, property, pets or a loved one.
For those people, the stress is huge, Rogers said. The worry when they are away from home and the not knowing is intense, acute stress. Weeks and months down the road, it can become chronic stress.
“We need to check in with the people who are directly affected a couple of months from now, not just a couple of weeks,” Rogers said. “Our lives go on, but theirs get stalled out for a while.”
For more information about behavioral health services in Banner Health, please visit www.bannerhealth.com/ncmc and find Behavioral Health under Services.