Mental health concerns rise as smoke chokes the West
VANCOUVER Smoke from hundreds of wildfires burning around B.C. could be harming more than just your physical well-being, say health experts.
It may also lead to poor mental health.
The Canadian Mental Health Association is urging residents to practice self-care and good mental wellness during this prolonged stretch of poor air quality caused by the more than 500 wildfires burning around the province.
That may include getting lots of rest, exercising indoors, spending more time with friends, and speaking to a professional if the anxiety persists more than a couple of weeks.
On Thursday, an air quality alert continued for much of B.C. and Alberta because of high levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfires.
Some areas in the Interior and Central B.C. have experienced air quality levels this week that far exceed what are considered hazardous to health. AQI levels in Vanderhoof, for example, were double the hazardous level on Wednesday.
Maya Russell, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Mental Health Association, said for many British Columbians the smoke is causing anxiety about climate change.
“Climate change is abstract, but when you can see it in the form of pollution and smoke, you are taking something that felt far away and bringing it right up close,” she said.
Also, such a long stretch of poor air quality is unprecedented in cities such as Calgary and Vancouver, and that can cause a feeling of losing control, she added.
Russell says there are ways to mitigate that anxiety. The first is to remind yourself that the smoke is temporary and the sky will return to normal. Environment Canada expected the conditions to improve by Friday, as a new weather system moved in, which could mean rainfall in Calgary.
Another tip is to practise mindfulness so you understand why you feel anxious.
If the fear of climate change becomes overwhelming, she said try making small changes to feel more in control.
Angela Yao, a PhD student at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health says there is not enough research yet on the longterm effects of breathing in wildfire smoke over a short period of time, such as a couple of days or a week.
“Wildfire is episodic and changes quickly over time so at least at this stage we don’t consider it a chronic exposure,” she said.
Environment Canada expected conditions to improve by Friday, as a new weather system moved in.