Self-care suggestions

Michele Taylor is the Executive Director of Waypoints, a social profit organization geared toward ending domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse and homelessness in the RMWB. On July 26th, she joined Russell Thomas on his radio show, IMPACT on KAOS 91.1, to discuss the implications of the fire from mental and family health perspectives, as well as preventative measures that can be taken to avoid the negative effects.

“We’ve looked at studies done around the world following natural disasters and unfortunately it looks like there’s about a 30 percent increase in domestic violence, first time incidences in homes that have never had domestic violence in them before, as well as a huge increase in sexual assaults and abuse, including child abuse,” said Michele.

Although these statistics are alarming, Michele said that this information was discovered early in the process. This enabled planning for increased capacity to deal with domestic violence, but also prevention to stop the first time offenses.

“We’re trying to get in there and help people early with counselling,” began Michele. “We know more than a lot of people have known when natural disasters have happened in their areas, so we should be able to do better.”

Michele said that another one of the findings that was uncovered from her research was that things will still get worse emotionally for a lot of residents before they get better. This is because of the long term stress of being displaced from homes, as well as the reality of what’s been lost sinking in. Some of the emotional effects will present as a sense of loss, grief or anger, or even things such as short term memory problems.

Michele’s advice is to take advantage of the services that are available in the community, including counselling and mindfulness classes.

“Doing these things now as preventative measures are very important,” said Michele. “I really encourage everyone to try to take advantage of some of the stuff that’s out there in the community.”

Along with the community resources, Michele discussed 7 measures that can be taken to prevent residents from potentially falling into negative behaviour patterns such as domestic, sexual, or child abuse.

1. Keep communication lines open more than usual for relationships within your home.

“You need to be open to talking to each other about what you can or can’t hear at a given time, what your needs are and how you’re feeling about stuff,” said Michele.

2. Recognize and see everything through the filter of ‘we have survived this natural disaster’.

“Whether you’ve lost your house or not, there is a certain amount of grief and loss and mourning that’s going on with everyone,” said Michele.

3. Talk to others.

“Talk to people about what you’re experiencing,” began Michele. “It normalizes what we’re all experiencing with each other and makes you realize that it’s not you alone having this particular problem…”

4. Stay active- even if it’s just getting outside for a 15 minute walk.

“If you can try to make it part of your life everyday, it will pay back in big benefits in terms of how you’re able to handle stress going forward,” said Michele.

5. Try to avoid drugs and alcohol, particularly overuse, with the exception of doctor prescribed medications.

“Generally speaking, that’s another way of avoidance and it’s another way of shoving your feelings aside for a while,” said Michele. “And typically, it makes it more complicated to deal with later.”

6. Ask for support.

“With no help things tend to get worse, so make sure you’re reaching out,” added Michele. “It will only make things better, quicker.”

7. If you’re feeling stressed out give yourself a timeout/ break.

This is especially important when you find yourself in a heated conversation. Michele says that even two minutes out of the room to decompress before returning to the conversation can make an impactful difference.

Natural Disasters affects us not only physically but also emotionally. In her interview Michele states that ‘We’re a community of traumatized people.’ This is a time when it is increasingly important to recognize how we’re feeling, and why we’re feeling the way we are. It is critical to take the time to talk about the impact of the fire and use the resources available in order to work through the mental stress of the situation.

If you are ever in a situation of domestic violence or sexual violence there are resources you can utilize. You can call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line at 780-743-1190, or the Sexual Assault and Abuse Crisis Line at 780-791-6708. Both are available 24/7 and are confidential.


Author: Meaghan Szpak

Meaghan has earned her degree in Public Relations from Iowa State University and has returned to work with The United Way of Fort McMurray. Her interest in the social profit sector brought her to the United Way last summer when she worked as an intern. Although she has spent the last few years in the United States, Meaghan is not new to the community of Fort McMurray and considers it home. She is excited about interacting on a daily basis with the people and agencies who give back and help make her home community a better place. In her free time Meaghan loves taking road trips, exploring new places and hiking new trails, all with her husky by her side.