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article imageMental health issues studied one year after Fort McMurray fire

By Arthur Weinreb     May 2, 2017 in Health
Fort Mcmurray - A psychiatrist with the University of Alberta is studying how the 2016 wildfire has affected the lives of children in Fort McMurray. Other studies are also being conducted regarding anxiety, depression and PTSD among those who lived through the ordeal.
Dr. Vincent Agyapong is engaged in a two-year project that will see him travel from Edmonton to Fort McMurray once a month to interview approximately 5,000 elementary and secondary school students. Agyapong received a $500,000 grant to carry out his research.
So far, the psychiatrist found about 80 percent of Fort McMurray residents experienced some sort of mental health problems right after the fire. This was expected. However Agyapong also found one-third of these people are still exhibiting mental health issues.
After Agyapong first went to Fort McMurray in November, he found PTSD in adults had increased from 0.4 percent to 12.8 percent of the population after the fire. He is now studying the effect of the fire on children.
Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of the wildfire. A small brush fire spread, eventually consuming 600,000 hectares of forest. Except for emergency workers and other necessary personnel, the entire population of Fort McMurray was forced to flee.
READ ALSO: Fort McMurray recovery from 2016 forest fire plods along
Luckily, there was only two deaths attributed to the fire. A 15-year-old girl and her stepmother’s nephew were killed when their SUV struck a tractor-trailer while they were travelling to escape the fire.
READ ALSO: Firefighter’s daughter dies in crash fleeing Fort McMurray fire
Sandra Corbett is a resident of Fort McMurray and she is also a psychiatrist with Alberta Health Services in Fort McMurray. Officials recently announced they were going to do a controlled burn in the area and even though Corbett knew what was happening, the fire and smoke brought back memories of a year ago. And she was not alone.
According to Corbett, usually people in the area contact mental health specialists about 1,000 times each year. Between May 10, 2016 and Mar. 8, 2017, individuals contacted Alberta Health Services 29,068 times.
Another study revealed almost one in six of the 355 people who fought the fire, suffered some form of mental illness in the aftermath of the wildfire.
In yet another study, it was estimated about 1,200 women in Fort McMurray were pregnant at the time the wildfire broke out. Neuro-scientist Gerlinde Metz, of the University of Lethbridge, is studying the effect of the fire on 200 mothers and their children.
Previous studies have suggested pregnant women who suffer from stress caused by natural disasters deliver their babies earlier and their children tend to be overweight, develop high blood pressure and are at greater risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
It is hoped the results of these studies will lead to better mental health services for the residents of Fort McMurray.
More about Fort McMurray, Wildfire, Anxiety, Depression, Ptsd
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