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Mental health impact of New Mexico wildfires

RUIDOSO, NM (KVIA) -- Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate their homes due to the ongoing wildfires in New Mexico, leaving many feeling scared and vulnerable. The sudden and unexpected nature of these evacuations can have a profound impact on mental health, leading to conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

ABC-7 spoke to Kristen Weindorf, associate director of the Crisis Management Team at Emergence Health Network who says in emergency situations like these, residents often have little time to prepare, adding to the trauma of leaving behind their homes and belongings.

“More than likely, what happens is their memory, it fades. So maybe they've gotten out of Ruidoso and into El Paso when they realize, oh, my gosh, I forgot my work computer, I forgot my cell phone or whatever the case may be, and so that causes an additional stress to them, not only about their home and their belongings, but whatever they may have lost,” Weindorf explains.

Weindorf says it's crucial for people to lean on each other during these times. Having a support system can provide the extra assistance during the ongoing crisis. "We need to avoid saying things like, 'It could have been worse,'" she adds. "That’s not very helpful because, for many, this is the worst-case scenario. It’s important to meet them where they’re at."

First responders also face their own set of challenges. Firefighters not only face the physical challenges of battling the blaze, but these situations also take a psychological toll. The reality of facing such intense and unpredictable situations can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Weindorf notes that everyone impacted by the fires, including firefighters, often experience a state of shock. She says symptoms of PTSD can surface later, "It can show up anywhere from that day, maybe at the end of their shift, two weeks later, or a year later. A lot of times people can suppress their feelings, and maybe something will happen that triggers their memory. They might have a flashback and realize they haven’t processed the experience."

Emergence Health Network encourages anyone affected to reach out to mental health professionals. They have a 24/7 crisis clinic available and additional support can be accessed through the National Hotline at 988.

To talk to mental health counselors, you can call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474).

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Isabella Martinez


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