"A Deadly Wildfire Traumatized Their Town. Can Nature Help Them Heal?"

"PARADISE, Calif. — Laura Nelson was dreading this drive. It’s bad enough seeing the mailboxes for houses that no longer exist, the dusty roads lined with the blackened skeletons of trees. But the day is also bone-dry and scorching, the smoke from a distant fire casting a too-familiar pallor over the landscape. Her car bumps over rough patches of pavement — places where the asphalt was melted by vehicles engulfed in flames.

It has been four years since Nelson navigated these roads while fleeing the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history. And still, every return to Paradise is a reminder that she can never truly go home.

When the Camp Fire incinerated Nelson’s Northern California town, it plunged the community into a mental health crisis. Butte County already had one of the highest rates of childhood trauma in the state, and the sudden loss of home and kinship left residents at high risk of depression. The author of one study on the fire’s aftermath said survivors experienced PTSD at rates on par with veterans of war.

They are not alone: Research increasingly shows that victims of climate change disasters are left with deep psychological wounds — from anxiety after hurricanes to surges in suicide during heat waves — that the nation’s disaster response agencies are ill-prepared to treat."

Sarah Kaplan reports for the Washington Post December 9, 2022.

Source: Washington Post, 12/09/2022