Time to Talk Day 2018 is all about talking about mental health anywhere. At MHFA England we work to give people the skills and confidence to be ready to support mental health anywhere – to listen, reassure and respond, even in a crisis.
So to mark Time to Talk Day this year, members of the MHFA England team have decided to share their stories of supporting someone’s mental health – wherever they are.
At a mother and toddler group I met someone who spoke the same language as me. She didn’t know anyone and no one else spoke her language. We started talking and eventually she opened up to me about her mental health issues and her struggles with her self-image and anxiety. I don’t have experience in this area so I didn’t try to give her advice, I just listened non-judgementally. Since that day we have become close friends. She now volunteers at the mother and toddler group and is socialising more.
On my lunch break with a couple of colleagues we walked past a man sitting in his van who seemed distressed. He was waving for help through the window so we approached carefully and asked if we could do anything to help.
The man said he needed an ambulance as he thought he was having a panic attack but wasn’t sure. He told us he had been in a car crash a few days ago and kept having flashbacks.
We helped him to call an ambulance to check that it wasn't a heart attack or delayed injuries from the accident. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, we used our skills to help calm him and reassure him that he was safe. It also seemed to reassure him that we stayed calm ourselves, telling him we were familiar with panic attacks and that we were trained in Mental Health First Aid.
After spending the day consuming my own body weight in turkey, cheese and chocolate I went for an evening drink with a couple of friends. It was pouring with torrential rain. After a swift drink and with the weather failing to dampen my spirits I continued my journey home considering which Christmas movie to watch when I got in. Only moments from my flat, I heard someone shouting.
Living in the town centre I am used to the sound of people yelling on nights out so I didn’t think much of it. But a few moments later I saw a woman who was soaked through. The colour was drained from her face and she was trying to shelter from the rain. She was shouting, “I need someone to help me or I’m going to kill myself.”
Immediately I stopped in my tracks. It seemed like the world had paused. After assessing that she wasn’t a danger to me I approached slowly and calmly, and said “Hi, my name is Dave, I would like to see if I can help you if that’s OK?”
Her breathing was very fast and she struggled to find her voice so I reassured her that she could take her time while holding my umbrella over her for shelter. She said she might have a heart attack if she didn’t get any help. From her behaviour I suspected that she might be having a panic attack so I kept the conversation going while standing beside her rather than head on so as not to seem intimidating.
As she spoke I used active listening and gently encouraged her to tell me more about what was going on for her. Her breathing began to slow and she started to seem more comfortable talking to me. I could sense that she trusted me as she asked me to carry her heavy rucksack. She confided in me that she thought “they” were watching her. My MHFA training gave me some insight that she might be experiencing psychosis. I tried to empathise without judging or criticising - what she was going through was very real to her so I acknowledged that it must be upsetting while reassuring her that she was safe.
She told me she was trying to find her son who was living in a sheltered accommodation centre. From my local knowledge the place she was trying to find was only a short walk away so I explained this and suggested that we walk and talk. The centre has 24-hour security so there would be someone there who could help in some way. They may even have a contact for her son or someone else in her support network, if she had one.
When we arrived, she didn’t want to press the buzzer on the gate as “they” might be alerted to her whereabouts. I again reassured her that she would be safe and offered to speak on the buzzer because she didn’t want to, and she agreed. When the security guard arrived, I told her that the woman needed assistance and would like to see her son if possible, and gave her son’s name. The security guard knew who her son was and went to find him.
When her son arrived, he seemed exasperated at first and said “Mum, you can’t be here.” While being mindful not to distress the woman, I said to her son that it may be a good idea if they went somewhere warm for a chat and a cup of tea because she’d had long day and was feeling distressed. Both the security guard and her son understood that something more serious was going on, opened the gate and invited her in. All three of them thanked me and the son shook my hand as I handed him her rucksack and said that he really appreciated what I had done for her.
Although I would like to think that I would have stopped either way, having some of the key skills from my recent MHFA training in mind encouraged me to help her and feel confident to do so.
For more from the MHFA England community this Time to Talk Day, check out Talking mental health from the rugby pitch to the barber shop