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Invisible scars left by Hurricane Fiona

Mental health resources are offered through Western Health and are accessible to everyone, not just those impacted by Hurricane Fiona. – Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — The physical destruction caused by Fiona was unlike anything residents of the Southwest coast of the province had ever before experienced. Aside from the extensive damage and financial hardships, there remain invisible impacts on people’s mental health. “The psychological impacts of a major disaster such as Hurricane Fiona can be long lasting and widespread and mental health impacts can be seen for years. While the majority of individuals are resilient and able to cope there will be some who may develop long term mental health problems,” said Cindy Parsons, the Manager of Stephenville and the Southwest Coast for Mental Health and Addiction Services, Western Health. “It is normal for individuals to experience feelings of anxiety, fear, loss and uncertainty. These are normal reactions to experiencing an abnormal event. Feeling triggered or hyper-vigilant during weather forecasts of wind and storm surges or in response to images of the hurricane are also normal reactions. Increased understanding through counselling can help people cope and experience less distress.” Once the storm passed, Western Health began ensuring more services were available to the region. “Mental health services were available in the community prior to the hurricane. However, there has been an increased presence due to the magnitude and impact on the affected communities on the Southwest Coast. We have built strong relationships and collaborations within the community and are continually reevaluating to enhance service delivery in the area. Counsellors are available to help enhance coping skills, provide support with government processes, increase education and awareness and advocate for residents as they work towards rebuild and recovery. Travelling clinics to coastal communities, educational events, doorways in schools and group counselling are some examples services have enhanced to meet community needs,” said Parsons. “From a trauma perspective we understand that emotional reactions and physical health symptoms may be present such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, and anxiety and that these symptoms impact social functioning, work and relationships. By helping people to understand disaster stress symptoms individuals can become less fearful and better able to manage.” There are numerous resources that are available. “Anyone can call or drop-in at their local Mental Health and Addictions office to start counselling services. The number for the office in Port aux Basques is 695-6250. There is no wait list for counselling services. Individuals can have a booked appointment(s) with a consistent counsellor or attend a single session whenever they choose, as often and as many times as they need. Counsellors use a client-centered approach to help people identify the service and schedule that works best for them. Individuals can also call 811 or visit to access services or for further information,” said Parsons. “Counsellors provide various clinical interventions such as couples/family therapy, and supportive counselling. Other service options may include individual counselling, group sessions, in-patient treatment, online programs, and other specialized services.” You don’t need to have been affected by Fiona to avail of resources. “Services are available to support life’s challenges such as stress, parenting, anxiety, depression, grief, separation/divorce, trauma, alcohol and drug use. Counselling can be helpful for any issue that a person feels that they need support.” Programs and services available are: Outpatient Mental Health Counselling and Addictions counselling for children, youth and adults, Opiate Dependency services, Flexible Assertive Community Treatment Team (FACTT), Mobile Crisis Response, Sexual Abuse Community Services, Trauma Services, Dialectical Behavioral Core Program, Adult Mental Health Unit, Humberwood Inpatient Treatment, Youth Outreach Worker (Prevention and Promotion). The process is simple. “There are three Mental Health and Addiction Counsellors based in Port aux Basques. Individuals can also choose to access services (individual, telephone or virtual) in other offices in Western region if they so choose. Port aux Basques also has a FACTT program with one social worker and a Registered nurse. Individual, group sessions or E-mental health (telephone or virtual) services are available. People can choose from booked appointments or drop in service by calling 695-6250,” said Parsons. Referrals can also be received by a third party. “Referrals can be helpful in supporting people to start services. Counsellors will then connect with people to help them choose what service(s) work best for them and schedule an appointment.” The benefits to prioritizing mental health are significant. “Mental health is important for everyone. Good mental health allows you to think, feel and act in ways that help you to enjoy life and cope with challenges,” said Parsons. “Some of the benefits of accessing mental health are improved mood, increased understanding of symptoms, enhanced coping and improvement in relationships and activities of daily living. Individuals can have a supportive person to speak to and learn improved skills and strategies for enhanced coping in a safe, confidential environment.” Struggling with mental health is not uncommon. “Over the past few years there have been an increase in stressors in our everyday lives, we have just lived through a pandemic and are now dealing with the impacts of a hurricane. We know this has taken a toll on our mental health and physical health. Accessing help to address our mental health can improve our coping skills, productivity and improve relationships with ourselves and others. Everyone experiences mental health, it is on a continuum, and sometimes we have days that are worse than others. There are many services and supports that can help people manage,” said Parsons. The work being done in Port aux Basques is far from over. “Mental health counsellors have been on the ground and available to provide support, validate experiences and normalize reactions. We continue to work to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and to create a sense of safety and foster a sense of hope. We are there to increase coping, navigate systems and to build community partnerships,” said Parsons. “Mental services have been actively involved in the community. In the early phases we utilized psychological first aid to help individuals understand the impacts of trauma, encouraged self-care and provided support to community groups and agencies. We understand that there will be a period of adjustment or a return to equilibrium that the community and individuals must go through and we will continue to provide services to the southwest coast.” If anyone is having second thoughts about seeking help, Parsons encourages them to reach out. “We are here to help. Ask questions and give the process a try. There is no shame in asking for help. The Southwest coast has experienced a very traumatic event and communities have been impacted. Counselling doesn’t have to be a scary process and counsellors will work to build rapport and establish trust. Virtual and telephone sessions are available throughout the western region as another service option. We have seen the devastation and impact on the communities and how the community has come together. Please know you do not have to do this alone and we are here to help.”

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