Courageous Conversations: A Personal Connection With Mental Health

Submitted by Anna Talving, Niagara Beyond The Blue

I want to share this story with you because even though I run Niagara Beyond The Blue and often have Mental Health at the forefront of my life, I don’t usually face it in such a personal way. It was any other day in my life. I had just returned home from work and was getting ready to start my afternoon shift as a busy mom, walking the dogs, getting dinner ready, and rushing to lessons with the kids when I noticed my friend just hanging out in my driveway but not making a move to come to my door. I was not expecting a visit, which was out of character because anyone who knows me knows well that I’m always on the go and the kind of person who has to schedule a visit for time management purposes. 

I had noticed an uptake in signs of anxiety in my friend over the past year or so and had reached out to them on a couple previous occasions and made them aware of my concern and observations of character that I had noticed. I had been reassured that these concerns were already being dealt with through therapy, and as with any journey with mental health, there are good days and bad days, but they were seeking help. 

I waited a few minutes and then decided to go outside and see what was going on with my friend. I greeted them like I would any other time. Still, the responses I received seemed out of the ordinary and concerning, including mannerisms and body language. I received Mental Health First and immediately recognized the signs of distress in my friend. I gave my friend safe physical space to keep them comfortable and made a split-minute decision to offer them help, which, yes, was intimidating and uncomfortable. This is why they are called ‘Courageous Conversations.’ I believe Mark Twain said, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting despite it”. I was putting our friendship on the line by telling them that I was concerned for their well-being and mental health, but I also recognized that by doing nothing, I wasn’t helping my friend in crisis, so being uncomfortable wasn’t a question. 

My friend was not receptive to my concerns, nor did they accept my help. I had offered to contact their family, their doctors, helplines, or to go to a hospital. All options were declined. I made them feel loved and safe and not at fault or judged. I gave them appropriate physical space by watching their body language. There was no threat of self-harm or fear of anyone else’s safety, so I just had to respect their decisions and not be threatening but only supportive and non-judgemental. They made the decision to leave my place without receiving help. This was incredibly difficult to observe and accept as both a dear friend and as someone who runs a Nonprofit for mental health support. I reached out to someone immediately because it was my turn to care for myself. I was entirely composed and in control of myself during that entire time. My Mental Health First Aid training took over. Afterwards, the adrenaline and emotions took over, and I sought the help I needed. I cannot care for others if I do not care for myself. 

I have since followed up with my friend’s partner, providing my experience, possible support, and steps they can take as a family to seek help. I let them know to take care of themselves and their loved ones. I will remain non-judgmental and not abandon my friendship while being aware of my limitations in assisting the matter. My story helps you understand the importance of reaching out to help someone, even if it is uncomfortable. Also, do not be hard on yourself and accept it if you cannot fix every situation. This is my takeaway.

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