Mental Health First Aid

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This makes it official, right?

Well…! I’ve finally done it! The first of many steps towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental health problems in Malta:

I am a Mental Health First Aider!

Confetti it’s a parade!

Celebrations aside, this has been something I’ve wanted to do since forever. And it’s finally done. 2 Saturdays. 6 hours each. Lots of laughs and new friends. Breaking the stigma, one person at a time.

Why should one take a mental health first aid course?

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My experience

Over the past two sessions, I learned a lot of things about mental health, and took note of them. Having been through mental health problems gave me a good background of certain things, but some things were new to me, including ALGEE:

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ALGEE – the life-saving acronym

Algee, the mascot of MHFA, is this cutie pie:

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Algee the koala

Despite having the MHFA manual, which was given to us free of charge, I still took notes of my own, and they will be listed down below…

  • Mental health problem – not diagnosed but displays symptoms
  • Mental health illness – diagnosed
  • Image result for spectrum of interventions for mental health
  • NEVER leave a person alone if they need help!
  • Say you went through a “similar situation” NOT “same thing”
  • Image result for thoughts emotions behaviors triangle
  • Attack the behaviour not the person
  • Make sure of the following:
    • You care and want to help
    • Empathy
    • Help is available
    • Thoughts are very common
    • Encourage the person to do most of the talking
    • No threats/guilt
    • NEVER KEEP SUICIDE A SECRET
    • There are ways to address specific problems
    • Involve the person in who to be told about the problem
  • When person is in crisis – first aid
  • When person not in crisis – ALGEE
  • Panic attacks are
    • frightening but not dangerous
    • not all triggered
  • When in doubt, assume person is experiencing a panic attack, NOT a heart attack
  • When person says they’re having a panic attack and recovers – no intervention
  • Slow breathing helps BUT focusing on breathing can become an emotional crutch leading to difficulty with eventual treatment
  • Panic attack – not more than 10 minutes
  • Types of traumas:
    • Individual
    • Ongoing
    • Mass
    • Witnessing/hearing
    • – (I didn’t get the last one unfortunately)
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder = Multiple Personality Disorder but NOT = schizophrenia!
  • Psychosis = loss of contact from reality
  • Neither confirm nor deny someone with psychosis!
  • Schizophrenia should be diagnosed early – teens to early 20s
  • Borderline Personality Disorder NOT = Bipolar!
  • Schizoaffective – schizophrenia + bipolar/depression (mood disorder)
  • Helpful actions: *
    • Seeking help
    • Offer tea
    • Didn’t go inside
    • Good memories
    • Friendship to help
    • Calm + firm tone
    • Gave options
    • Showed concern
    • Seated
    • 90-degree angle
    • Listened/emphatic
    • Minimal reaction (present)
  • Unhelpful actions: *
    • Sarcasm
    • Judgemental
    • Showed fear
    • Tone of voice
    • Remained standing
    • Arguing with delusions
    • Anxious
    • Insane
    • Calling help behind his back
    • Speaking about Peter in front of him
    • Facial expressions
  • What is affected by substance use disorders? The 4 Ls
    • Livelihood
    • Love
    • Liver
    • Law
  • Three types of substances:
    • Depressants
    • Hallocages
    • Stimulants

* Points taken during a video about MFHA: Psychosis taken from the MHFA Australia DVD


So these were all the points I jotted down throughout the 12-hour course, including some pictures used during the presentations. As a disclaimer, I would like to point out that despite this certification, I CANNOT diagnose ANYONE, but simply ASSIST the person in case of mental health problems. For a diagnosis, please seek professional help (GPs, psychologist, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, etc.)

 

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Letter to Alice (Anxiety) and Dina (Depression)

Alice, Dina… we need to talk about some things. Well, it has been a while since we’ve last spoken to each other. I hope you two are comfortably sat down because this might be a long one.

Continue reading “Letter to Alice (Anxiety) and Dina (Depression)”

#BreaktheStigma… from the Survivors

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“People think that OCD is all about being a neat freak or washing hands.”

“My friends and I were having a discussion about suicide, and one said that anyone who commits suicide is a selfish.”

“People think that anyone who commits suicide is selfish because they don’t think of the pain their family and friends go through.”

“I think that people in general think that mental health is not as important as physical illnesses. That’s why people are embarrassed to talk about what they’re going through, especially men.”

“For me, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is like being imprisoned – caged even – in my own brain to rules and such that I have to abide to to avoid something wrong from happening!”

“People think that just because I smile and joke a lot, that I am ‘normal’ and don’t have any type of mental disorders…”

“When people talk to me, it takes me a while to actually talk, if I actually manage to. They would just say ‘Oh she’s just shy’.”

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“Reality is way more than anyone thinks. Intrusive thoughts galore and never a quiet moment in your head… guilt of past mistakes, obsessing over health issues and an irrational thought which makes it so scary you end up having a panic attack… What else…? Ohh, seeking reassurance from someone means you’ll be ok for a minute and then the thoughts come back and you ask again for reassurance. It’s a vicious cycle; it never stops.”

“You’re scared that you might hurt someone although you still know you’re not going to hurt someone but you still live with that fear….”

“I have read that some people were scared being around children . Because they are scared they hurt them.”

“Obsessing about sexual orientation. If you’re straight, you think you’re gay and vice versa . I haven’t had all of these but, I know they happen.”

“In reality, in some cases, the person thinks that the world will be a better place without them.”

“… The truth is, we smile and laugh a lot to hide and bury our sadness deeper and deeper, out of fear of judgement.”

“I am not just a shy person. I am just scared of being judged for seeming vulnerable.”


Disclaimer: What you just read have been and are in present time experienced by real people. If yourself or someone close to you are suffering from any of these symptoms, consult with a doctor and take it from there.

Y O U ‘ R E [N O T] A L O N E

B R E A K T H E [S T I G M A]

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My Biggest Fear

If this were a YouTube video, I would call it a sit-down type thing, where I sit down and talk sh*t about my life, and viewers (if any) would listen. As if I’m a talker. But here goes. In this “sit-down” I will be discussing my biggest fear right now. No no, it’s not the clowns (even though yes, still scared shitless of them), or death or anything of that sort.

It’s relapse.

Now I know I’m in a very good place right now, having come out with my battle with depression anxiety some two months ago, and I haven’t been a pessimistic crud since March, but let’s face it, the possibility is there. All it takes is one wrong step. Now how ironic is it saying this and not sound pessimistic?

I’m being realistic.

This week I had splitting headaches thinking of what would happen if I ever relapse. Would my co-workers lose faith in me? Would I put my family through misery? And what about my few good friends and boyfriend? What would they do?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m good right now. This is NOT a relapse moment for me. Just a thought I had before going to bed one fine Sunday. I mean come on, who has these thoughts just before going to bed?!

I might update this post from time to time, make it more decorative since it looks like crap.

That’s it from me.

Stay Strong X

“It all just got real…” – My Journey to Being Diagnosed

I led a normal childhood, as far as I can remember. I was the imaginative, creative weirdo who loved her imaginary friends and playing soccer. I had really good friends of both genders, played well with everyone and the teachers mostly loved me. However, I always had the same problem: I thought too little about consequences of my actions, but was preoccupied with what people taught of me: always was and probably always will be.

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I had a normal, happy childhood

There was nothing weird with my family. My parents are your average, strict hard-working parents who wanted the best for their children, and my older sister was… well… an older sister. She means well, I know, but sometimes she can be a bit harsh. But in a good sisterly way, I’m sure.

Fast forward to when I turned eleven: when the problems started. I was moved to all-girls secondary (high) school. I had no friends except for one a year above me (who’s still my best friend to this day… TEN YEARS LATER!), and I always sat with my sister during free periods. I had acne, low self-esteem and a reputation for being an outcast. I went from playing and talking to everyone to being left out, getting picked last for team work and talking to nobody but my sister and my best friend. During secondary school, I used to think I had depression, but brushed it off. The idea never stuck. Me, former class clown, depressed?! Nah!

I only ever liked three subjects at school: English, Italian and French. Having three languages was no walk in the park. I loved writing stories in English and present them to my teachers, who all told me the same thing: “You have talent”. I used to hate my French teacher for the two years that I had her, and never did my homework. She told me I’d fail, but I always got good marks in French. Italian was a different story. We were a tight-knit group, and I still sometimes talk to some of them when I see them around.

Also during this time I was bullied. The names were endless: weirdo, strange, Shrek, ugly. I was also called names for listening to rock music and always being gloomy. But that’s how I was. They’d never understand the consequences of their words.

In June 2011, I lost my uncle to cancer. It was one of the saddest days of my life. Despite not being too close with him, he always had nothing but wise words of wisdom to tell me and my sister. The day he died I was sick, in bed, studying his favourite subject: the French Revolution. I dedicated my History exam to him… didn’t go so well. I got an E. Sorry, Uncle. I still love you.

That year, in October, came the saddest day of my life: losing my grandfather. My hero, the greatest man to ever enter my life. He was smart, funny, a good man all in all: the person I aspired to become when I was older. I spent that day just staring without a focus on things. I was so sad that all I did when I went home was stare at the ceiling, remember the good old days with him. The laughter, sadness and wisdom we shared together. Losing him left me devastated and unable to cope.

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Losing my hero left me devastated

That led me to a downward spiral. I’d call my mum, crying that I hated everyone and everything, that I was alone and no one would miss me. This left her a little worried, but she brushed it off as a phase, simple sadness or something of that sort. 2011-2012 were the worst years of my life. My grades were plummeting; I had just two friends and being single didn’t help at all. I thought nobody wanted to be with me, or even liked me. I hid it all: the pain, the sadness, being lonely and alone. I hid it like it was nothing. And I was good at it. I good at making people think I was okay.

Fast forward three years. I was still sad, constantly tired, didn’t enjoy the things I used to love—reading and watching series—and my self-esteem was ever so low.

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I hid my sadness very well

During that time, however, something did change: I started seeing someone. As he plays a role in this, we’ll call him X. X was smart, charming, a fellow animal lover and mature. I was instantly in love. We were both Beatles fans, and having met for the first time on John Lennon’s birthday made the relationship extra special. I was working as a secretary, and was not happy with my job. X encouraged me to call someone for help. Something I wanted to do for ten years… and it happened. I called my psychologist, Dr G, and set up my first appointment for December 2015. Also during that time, I went to see a doctor, and told him about my health issues. He told me to take a blood test, because it might have been thyroid issues, and if they came out negative, chances are I have depression. And, lo and behold…

The tests came out negative.

I had depression. It all just got real now. After ten years, I was finally diagnosed.

Soon enough, things with X were going sour. He’d be encourage me to do thigs the hard way—go hard or go home, he’d tell me in his own way—like putting on make-up, changing my style, moving out, not listen to my parents and much more. X would tell me he means well and cares about my wellbeing, which for him meant cutting my family off. Unfortunately, being blinded by my love for him, I listened to him. I spent about three months not talking to my family.

Things started getting worse, and one day, he just told me that it was better to stay away from him. I spent the next three days in hospital, crying for him, crying for dear life, with my mother by side. Oh, mother, if it wasn’t for you then, I’d probably have killed myself. She came with me to every doctor’s appointment, kissed me goodnight and checked up on me constantly. I felt stupid for having cut her off of my life because of X. Stupid and foolish and sad at the same time.

And finally we come to the present:

  • I’m seeing a specialist every four weeks to overlook my progress
  • I’m in a fun, amazing relationship
  • My family still loves me
  • My friends both love me to bits
  • I started this blog

And most of all…

  • I am where I want to be 🙂

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Things That Have Helped me Deal with Mental Health

This will probably be the most personal post on this blog, granted. But before I start, let me put a disclaimer out there by saying that this list will in no way be of an influence to others, but rather to help a little. This is a personal list, so things that helped me, and no one else.

  1. My Psychologist

Dr G. was the first step towards realising I had a problem. Mastering my courage to actually call a professional for help is one thing, but to actually talk about it was a whole different scenario. I’d meet him every week for about two months. Currently I’m not visiting him anymore because I feel like I’m in a good place, and this doctor will always have a special place in my heart.

  1. Pokémon Go

I know what you’re probably thinking… really, Claire? A mobile app? At first I was a bit meh about the game as I wasn’t a huge Pokémon fan (I just watched it when I was younger and that was it), but then I started reading that the game has actually helped people with depression get out of their house. And boy did it work. I go out almost every day for an hour or two just walking to find the godforsaken Pokémons and the stops. … It sounds ridiculous, but it’s helped me get out of my house, so it’s on the list.

  1. Yoga & Exercising

This is a good one. Not only did they help with weight loss and flexibility, but also cleared my mind off of my problems and focus on working out. That simple. Working out also releases endorphins, which are the “happy hormones”, so there’s that too.

  1. My Boyfriend

We haven’t been together very long, but Chris has really opened my eyes on a lot of things in life. Social skills, love, friendship and many other things. He’s really supportive of me and I’ve never met such an awesome person.

  1. Going Old School

This may seem a bit weird to say. In my last relationship, I changed. I was becoming the worst version of me, somebody I wasn’t, and this caused a lot of arguments with my family, especially my mother, whom I love with all my heart (Love you… again). My boyfriend (refer to #4) has helped me go back to my roots: listening to old music like Zeppelin and The Beatles (again), dressing up the way I wanted, styling my hair the way I loved it (always up) et cetera.

I hope you all liked this very personal post. Now it’s your turn to let me know what’s helped you get over your battles with mental health? Let me know in the comments’ section below! And with that, I will see you on the flip side.