Fire leaves no physical casualties but many mental scars
Even though there were no injuries or deaths from the Coal Seam Fire, none of those who witnessed it escaped unscathed.
Firefighters, police, people who lost their homes and the folks who watched the blaze sweep across the valley from afar all bear an internal wound that must be attended to, said Michael Lucid, assistant executive director of Colorado West Regional Mental Health.
“There should be time and space for everyone to tell how it impacted them,” Lucid said. “We look at the heroes and the victims, and we have a tendency to diminish how worthwhile our own experiences are.”
Colorado West and other public and private therapy groups have been contracted by the American Red Cross to provide mental health counseling for anyone who needs it in the wake of the fire, Lucid said.
“We had a counselor at the high school at 2 a.m. Sunday night” to work with firefighters and other first responders, he said.
Already some employers have contacted him to provide therapy for workers.
All of us are having similar feelings of fear and loss that are expressed emotionally as stress, he said.
What people may be experiencing is trouble sleeping, eating and drinking more or less than usual, or irritability and trouble concentrating. All are signs of anxiety, Lucid said.
“We all have stress, but this is an extraordinary circumstance,” he said.
Lucid has also been hearing that people are concerned with the reactions of their children.
“My youngest son (Matt, 9) was nervous. He didn’t want me to go to work,” Lucid said. “His fear came from our getting ready to evacuate.”
During the worst of the fire, parents were called on to take measures to protect their families and property, and that makes them less available to their kids for a time, said Colorado West clinical network director Allen Brown.
“Parents need to make a strong effort to talk to their kids” and be honest about what’s going on, he said.
“When the emergency hit, a lot of people put their emotions aside. As the situation stabilizes, they feel fatigued,” Lucid said. “Folks have to take care of themselves.”
But those reactions may continue for some time.
“If they continue over several weeks, they should talk to someone,” Lucid said, suggesting that troubled residents seek out family, friends, a minister or therapist.
For those who suffered the loss of their homes, they will experience the loss much as they would if it had been a friend or family member.
“It helps to talk to people and share our feelings,” he said.
For more information, call Colorado West Regional Mental Health at 945-2583.
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