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‘The need is still there’: Nepean resource centre offers walk-in counselling for tornado victims

Heather Brown (left) is the tornado relief coordinator at the Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode Community Resource Centre. Sandy Wooley (right) is the centre's executive director. Beatrice Britneff / Global News

A community resource centre in Ottawa that has offered trauma counselling and special programming for residents affected by the tornado that hit Nepean last September has now launched free, walk-in counselling sessions, saying mental health supports are still needed in the area nearly 10 months later.

“People are still worried about those essential things, like a roof over their house, being able to live in their house because some of them have been condemned … [and] there have been some huge struggles with insurance,” said Sandy Wooley, executive director of the Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode Community Resource Centre.
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The centre on Merivale Road had previously offered free, weekly counselling services from November 2018 to May 2019, but they were by appointment only and were held during daytime hours.

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The new walk-in sessions, now in their third week, will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. every Thursday, so people have access to the one-time service after work hours. Sessions are about 90 minutes long and are facilitated by a professionally-trained trauma counsellor.

“It’s [about] what’s really impacting you now and what tools can we give you to move forward,” Wooley said.

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Wooley said staff decided to bring back and revamp the counselling sessions this summer after sending out a survey to two community associations and residents who have accessed tornado relief services.

Close to a third of those who responded said they still wanted mental health supports of some kind to help them cope with the impact of the EF-2 tornado, according to Heather Brown, the centre’s tornado relief project coordinator.

Brown said the long-term effects can be emotional, manifesting as increased stress, anxiety, frustration and fatigue. Some residents have also expressed feeling fear when there’s strong winds, thunderstorms or “strange, ominous clouds,” she said.

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There’s also outstanding logistical and financial issues, like prolonged dealings with insurance companies or being unable to afford removing a battered tree from their property, she added.

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“There are good stories, but there’s that few that have horror stories … and [we] hope that they would reach out to us for support if they need,” Brown said.

Trauma counselling a first for community resource centre

Before the pair of tornadoes hit Ottawa on Sept. 21, 2018, Wooley said the centre had never been equipped to provide anything like trauma counselling.

In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, the organization received funding from the United Way, which it used to create Brown’s job, Wooley said.

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Brown and other staff immediately went door-knocking around the community and realized there was a need for trauma counselling services.

Since last fall, the centre has offered one-on-one and group counselling, mindfulness sessions and yoga for mental health for both children and adults affected by the twister.

The centre could afford to come back with free, walk-in counselling for tornado victims — run in partnership with Jewish Family Services Ottawa — thanks to funding from the Ottawa Senators Foundation earlier this year, Wooley said.

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The walk-in sessions are offered in English and Arabic. French will be added to that list as of August, Wooley said.

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Over the next two months, Brown will also work with the community to see what the resource centre can do to support residents as the one-year mark since the tornadoes approaches. Residents are encouraged to contact the centre with any program ideas, Wooley said.

“We know, from the research that we’ve done and speaking to experts, that the closer we get to the anniversary of September 21st, the more stress is going to go up as well and anxiety and fear,” she said.

When to seek counselling support

Wooley and Brown encourage residents affected by the pair of tornadoes last September to continue to check in with their emotions.

“It’s normal to feel stress and anxiety after something like this has occurred so if you’re having those feelings at all, don’t brush them off. Come in and talk to somebody,” Wooley said.

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The resource centre says an individual might consider visiting a counsellor if they’ve continued to experience several of these feelings over the last 10 months:

  • Increased stress or anxiety, or inability to cope with regular life events
  • Anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reliving the incident, or upsetting reminders of the incident
  • Unexpected upsetting thoughts or memories, or disturbing dreams
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Increased awareness of potential danger to yourself and others
  • Startling easily or feeling jumpy
  • Fast heartbeat, stomach churning, dizziness or other physical reactions

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