Wildfire smoke can have psychological impact on residents, say researchers
VANCOUVER -- Smoky skies, like the ones throughout B.C., can lead to anxiety, boredom and depression.
“People exposed to wildfires have higher rates of PTSD,” said family physician Dr. Melissa Lem. “For a lot of people in B.C. it’s brought back memories of the record breaking wildfires of 2017.”
When fire devastated Fort McMurray in 2016, residents of the Albertan community reported feeling depressed. Firefighters have also admitted feeling down after returning from battling wildfires. Their depression was likely due to many factors, but researchers believe smoke is one of them.
“The challenging thing right now is we have lots of layers. There's a smoke layer. There's a COVID layer,” said Dr. Luisa Giles of the University of the Fraser Valley. “This extra layer of smoke just takes it to the next level. It's just one more thing on top.”
It also doesn’t help that we’re told to stay indoors whenever possible.
“You're stuck inside, the sky is grey, If you can't exercise and feel trapped that's also going to play a role,” added Giles.
She advised anyone who is feeling down to talk to friends and family. They can also call a crisis line.
Additionally, wildfires and associated smoke can have a physical impact, and some experiencing symptoms may be unsure whether they're due to the air quality or illness.
Read more from Dr. Lem about the symptoms of smoke exposure versus COVID-19 in this Q&A.