Editor’s note: Following is the first of four articles from Peer Support Services at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) on mental health issues, as a way to open the door towards better understanding. The first details Sandy’s experience with anxiety. Names have been changed.
Sandy walked through the Village Green Centre, browsing the stores. Suddenly, she feels intense fear which is inappropriate for the circumstances.
Dropping her parcels, she reaches for her heart as she feels intense palpitations, pounding of the heart and it appears to be accelerating. Don, who was walking by her, notices how she is acting. He stops and asks her if she is all right. He sees that Sandy is trembling and she slowly starts to tell him how she is feeling.
“I am very frightened that I may be having a heart attack,” says Sandy. Don, who has been trained in mental health first aid, knows that it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack. Don says to Sandy, “I will call 911 to get someone here to help you.”
Sandy is now noticing that she is feeling dizzy, unsteady and faint. Don takes her over to a chair and makes the call on his cell phone. While they are waiting, Sandy’s breath is quick and Don notes this as he says to her “try to breathe at the same time as my arms go up and down. I would like to help you slow down your breathing.” She complies, and by the time the emergency services arrives she is breathing normally.
The team takes her into the hospital and they run heart tests on her. The doctor on duty comes to the conclusion that it was a panic attack.
Sandy is worried about being diagnosed with a mental disorder. She is afraid of the stigma attached to it. The doctor reassures her that if this happens occasionally, there is effective medication to control this disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the number-one mental health problem in Canada. At Peer Support Services, through the CMHA, the public can come and talk about mental health concerns. They have trained volunteer peers available to support someone going through mental health symptoms.
CMHA is at 3100 -28th Ave., and the Peer Support Services number is 250-542-6155. Peer Support Services is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Mental Health First Aid course created by the Mental Health Commission of Canada is also available through CMHA.