Guest commentary: Don’t let the wildfires overwhelm your mental health, seek help
Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley are now faced with another wildfire. We are no stranger to wildfires. They have become all too familiar.
I have hiked the Storm King Trail and stood on what can only be described as hallowed ground where 14 firefighters lost their lives protecting our valley. I was in West Glenwood for the Coal Seam Fire and left one of the mobile home parks after seeing flames coming over the top of the hill into West Glenwood.
I remember the worry that I would not get out of West Glenwood before the flames and I remember being certain that we would never see the house again. We were lucky; others in the community were not.
As a social worker, I walked through the area of the Lake Christine Fire talking to people who were impacted, hearing their stories of how they fled, what they lost, what they feared losing in upcoming days.
So, I do understand the collective breath we are all holding as the fire is circling our valley one more time. The fear that tragedy will again strike.
The anxiety we feel is real and is rooted in our history and rooted in the proximity of this fire and the unpredictability that fires can have. This wildfire also is occurring during a pandemic and in the midst of trying to restart school, both of which also are very stressful in and of themselves.
So, how do we acknowledge and handle our anxiety without allowing it to paralyze us?
Situations like this wildfire can contribute to a sense of vulnerability which can increase anxiety, depression and other emotions.
There are ways to cope.
It is very important to limit your exposure to the news and to social media. Get the most up-to-date information, and then take a break from social media and the news.
Maintain your daily routines by waking, eating, exercising and going about your day the way you normally would.
Follow the recommendations around having a bag packed or things ready in case you do have to evacuate. The planning process around what to take and the planning of a rendezvous point can be empowering and help us feel prepared for what could come our way.
Be of help to others. Being of service to others or our community is a way to cope and build resiliency.
Additional resources and tips including tips for parents can be found on the Mind Springs Health website at MindSpringsHealth.org/majorevents/#wildfire.
If you are overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, depressed, angry or all of the above, please call the Mind Springs Health 24-hour support line at 1-877-519-7505 to speak with a caring and confidential mental health professional.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or are in acute mental health distress, call the Colorado Crisis Line 844-493-8255.
Jackie Skramstad is the clinical operations manager with Mind Springs Health and has been with the organization since 2002. She is a longtime resident of the Roaring Fork Valley.