Nearly two years after a tornado tore through her backyard, causing nearly $75,000 worth of property damage, Christine Corelli-Gowan’s home in Barrie, Ontario. looks as good as new.
But some long-lasting effects aren’t physical, including the way Corelli-Gowan said it now responds to adverse weather.
“The last few weeks of weather have been a bit unnerving, where it’s gotten to the point where I’m running out and grabbing things and bringing them back and then wondering, Should I turn it back off or not?” Corelli-Gowan said.
This weekend marks two years since the tornado ripped through parts of Barrie, displacing more than 100 residents and causing approximately $100 million in property damage. But while much of the physical damage has been repaired, some members of the community are still feeling lasting emotional and mental effects.
“No alert was going to miss me this time”
Corelli-Gowan was home when the tornado hit. It was a normal afternoon, although she noticed that her son’s dog seemed anxious.
“And then all of a sudden I heard something hit my window. And when I looked, I didn’t see anything. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was white,” she said.
She yelled at her children to go down to the basement, and says it was only once they were there that a tornado alert went off on her phone.
In the months that followed, Corelli-Gowan was able to access counseling, and she credits it for helping her recover for the most part from the lingering fear.
“Every time there was a little bit of wind or a tree moved a little bit a certain way, I would look out of all the windows. No alerts would go unnoticed this time,” he said. “I was going to get ahead of that alert.”
What the research says about disasters and mental health
Dr. Vincent Agyapong has studied the effects of natural disasters on mental health, including after the devastating forest fire at Fort McMurray in 2016. The head of the department of psychiatry at Dalhousie University and the chief of psychiatry for the Central Area The Nova Scotia Health Department said for most people, the mental health effects diminish over time after a disaster.
“But certainly, there is a significant proportion of people whose mental health problems will persist for years even after the event,” Agyapong said.
In interviewing Fort McMurray residents, Agyapong said he and his fellow researchers looked at a variety of factors, including support from the government, the Red Cross, insurance, and friends and family, as well as age, gender, employment status and exposure to images. of the disaster afterwards.
“The only significant factor we found that protected people’s psychological well-being was those who reported full support from family, friends and community members,” he said.
Despite living in Barrie for more than two decades, Corelli-Gowan said she has never felt very connected to the community. However, after the tornado, she said that “the sense of community was unreal.”
She said connecting with other residents as they navigated the aftermath and dealt with insurance claims was a big help.
“Even if you discuss it with family and friends, if they haven’t been through it, they don’t understand it,” Corelli-Gowan said.
‘I’ve never had an anxious bone in my body before’
Connie Barszcz lives just north of Barrie, in Elmvale. But two years ago, she found herself in the tornado’s path of destruction. She was dropping off items at a friend’s house who wasn’t home when the weather suddenly changed and she only had her car to shelter.
“Everything was like being inside a cotton ball. You can’t see anything when you’re in the middle of it. There was so much debris and all I could hear was something hitting my car and wrecking it.” on it,” Barszcz said.
After that terrifying experience, he says he experienced mental health issues for the first time.
“People kept telling me, ‘Oh, you must be so happy to be alive.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m thankful to be alive, but I’m not happy, and I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,'” Barszcz said.
“I didn’t realize it was depression and anxiety. I’ve never had an anxious bone in my body before.”
Barszcz said it took months for him to cover the therapy through his health benefits. After 13 months of seeing a therapist, she said he is seeing progress in overcoming his anxiety.
At this time last year, she was still in a very bad place. But for this Saturday, Barszcz filled her schedule so she would have less time to think about that day two years ago.
“It will never be forgotten, but I really feel like this two-year mark has taken me that much further.”