Men­tal health con­cerns rise as smoke chokes the West

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - TIF­FANY CRAW­FORD ticraw­[email protected]­media.com — With files from Scott Brown

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.

JEFF BAS­SETT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

En­vi­ron­ment Canada ex­pected con­di­tions to im­prove by Fri­day, as a new weather sys­tem moved in.

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