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Wildfires worsen anxiety in year of COVID-19 stress, doctors say

Dr. Venus Nicolino says sometimes the trauma of a wildfire lasts far beyond its containment date.

Posted: Sep 24, 2020 7:11 PM
Updated: Sep 26, 2020 11:55 AM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- The wildfires consuming the West on top of an already stressful year due to COVID-19 have created a one-two punch of stress and anxiety as families across the country are forced to deal with whatever comes next. Doctors say these feelings are natural, and healing doesnt always come easy.

Dr. Venus Nicolino is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, and she said sometimes the trauma of a wildfire lasts far beyond its containment date.

"Survivors describe feeling fragile and less capable of managing stress for years after the fires," she said.

Because even when the fires stop, challenges still lie ahead.

"That could be scrambling for shelter -- the competition for builders -- the toil of the insurance process, all of that is also potentially harmful to our mental health -- it's all just completely exhausting," Nicolino said.

She added that young people are at an increased risk in these crises.

"Children and teens are extremely susceptible to compounded trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome," she said.

Dan Isaacson is a member of the Lane County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). He is also the operations lead for the evacuation site which recently left the Masonic Lodge in Eugene.

He said the need for mental health resources is astronomical, but he called the access to those resources abysmal.

"We rank 50th in the country for mental health funding," he said. "We're not even close to 49th."

He said the people that come into the resource center have gone from mostly being alone due to COVID-19 to being surrounded by hundreds of people looking for help and for some that's sensory overload.

"You mix that with the trauma of losing everything or fearing you've lost everything and mix it all with lack of resources across the board and you get some traumatic and long-lasting impacts," he said.

For more information on mental health resources in Lane County, click here.

For more tips on how to cope with your mental health, go to www.talk2drv.com.

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