First Aid: From My Seat at the Table

OK, so it’s Thursday morning the week the clocks sprang forward. I’m tired. It’s light out in the morning for a change, but that’s little consolation for my cynical nature. 

This long winter has finally broken, the sky is bright, I have my good friend Amelia, a huge cup of tea, and I sit at a U-shaped table thinking these two days of training on mental health first aid are going to be, well … boring.

I don’t belong here

After introductions, I realize we’re the only two who don’t have a connection to the offshore oil industry. Now I’m stressed in a room full of engineers.

I promise myself I’m going to participate. I tell myself if I learn one thing the two days will be worth it. About 45 minutes into the morning I spot horses out the window, then pigs. This IS going to be worth it!

Farm living?

Before long, the horses and pigs and various other wildlife are not what’s holding my attention. The two instructors lead a discussion about mental health, what it is, who has it (spoiler alert: all of us), and launch into the section on substance abuse and addiction.

The room erupts into conversation after every section. How this one is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, how Autism has affected a family, how depression comes and goes. We’re all standing around a piece of flipchart paper writing down reasons people would drink or do drugs (loneliness, because it feels good, pain management, to ease anxiety in public), and all these people who I thought I had nothing in common with were suddenly baring their souls.

Are you talking about me?

The afternoon focused on depression related mental health disorders and I start blushing. But I’m opening up too. Talking about how wait times are devastating, how medication can bring you back from the brink, and how not all depressives are layabouts with no motivation.

Amelia and Alisha at Mental Health First Aid

Homework: Self care

Day two … anxiety disorders, bipolar. Are these people talking about me? Nope. I’m still blushing, but I’m learning too. The constant fear is something everyone feels – maybe not to the same extent as myself, but they feel crippling fear for many reasons.

We have a discussion about how everyone has a phobia – an irrational fear – of something; spiders, clowns, dogs – even peanut butter as a result of a family members’ serious allergy.

Ain’t that funny?

We all giggle about our fears though, and we find them fascinating, but we don’t diminish them in others, we ask about them – because we all have them.

We know that a fear of heights is common, and fear itself is what protects us and keeps us safe, it can even make us perform better.

That’s mental health for ya, going and changing the conversation.

First aid intensifies

The afternoon was about psychosis. Wow, way to end it guys. At least I don’t have this one. What I do have is a lot of questions; how do you develop psychosis, how do you deal with voices in your head or seeing things that aren’t there? How can you calm the paranoia?

How does it start, why so late in life, how scary must it be to have voices in your head that suddenly shut off or are muted by medication after isolating yourself for years?

How can you help someone you believe is having a psychotic break.


I’ve spent the last couple of weeks thinking about this experience and how it could help so many people. How my mom could better understand what I need when I’m in a depressive episode, how my sister could better cope with her anxiety, how my boss could approach my unending doubts about my performance.

But I’ve also been thinking about how I can be a better caregiver to those around me; especially in a crisis.

What’s next?

Up next … what we really learned about mental health and how to help. (Spoiler alert: It’s not what you think.)

If you want to know more about Mental Health First Aid training, take the course for yourself or for your team, get in touch with the Canadian Mental Health Commission. You get a lot more than a completion certificate out of this two-day course.

And as always, if you need help or are in crisis, call this number (1-888-737-4668) and talk about it.