Twenty-two months ago Lisa Daugharty lost her son, Shaw actor Jonah McIntosh, to suicide. This weekend she’s coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake to teach a mental health first aid course.
“When Jonah passed, I just felt like I needed to do something to help people. I just felt like this is something he would have wanted me to do,” says Daugharty. “I wanted to honour his memory by doing something positive.”
Out of curiosity and professional interest, the Bowmanville-based, full-time police officer participated in a mental health first aid course offered by Mental Health First Aid Canada not long after her son’s death. “Afterwards I spoke with the instructor and she said, ‘you were so knowledgeable — would you consider being an instructor?’”
Daugharty contemplated the idea, and ultimately went through an arduous and expensive application process. “In June 2018, I was accepted to take the instructors course in Ottawa,” she says. “My skills were well-adapted to the program. I went to school for nursing, and then became a police officer specializing in domestic violence — and also had the life lessons of losing my son to suicide.” She says she also had the credibility of 21 years on the police force.
“Now I teach. My goal is to improve education and awareness, and to reduce the stigmatization of mental illness,” she says. “The main reason people don’t get help for mental health issues is shame. If I can get the word out that it’s okay to talk about mental health, then I’m helping people.”
“If I can just help one person not go through what my family did, then I’ve done something right.”
She describes the course as akin to CPR for the psyche. “It’s like physical first aid, but for mental health.” The course will teach participants about assessment; giving reassurance; knowing when you can help, and when you need to call 911; communicating effectively — what to say, what not to say; and general awareness of mental health issues. She will use case studies, working through dos and don’ts, she says.The course is one of a series offered by MHFA. According to Daugharty, this one is the basic course, with the addition of two hours of instruction specifically directed toward people who interact with youth. “One hour is dedicated to deliberate self-injury — which is common in youth; and one hour is dedicated to eating disorders — also common in youth.”
The course will be held at the Shaw Festival Theatre. Megan Gilchrist, the Shaw’s education coordinator, reached out to Daugharty and asked if she would be willing to come to NOTL to teach Girl Guide leaders, as well as any Shaw staff who might be interested. Daugharty says Gilchrist found out about the course through a mental health support Facebook page Daugharty started after her son’s death: The Book of Jonah; Mental Health First Aid Education and Public Speaking.
Returning to the Shaw will likely be a challenge. “Some days it’s really hard to teach this, but something just makes it worthwhile,” she says. “A lot of people ask how I can do this. It’s something positive I can do to make a positive out of the negative.”
“Mental health is as important as physical health,” she continues. “If you picture a triangle of health, one side is physical, another is emotional, and the third is social. You need strength and stability on all the sides, or all the sides suffer.”
“We need physical, emotional and social support or we’re not well. Any one of the three suffers, and it affects the others. They are all part and parcel of what we do.”
She warns of sensitive content in the course. “We do talk about someone who might be thinking about suicide. I want to make sure people understand the content, and won’t be traumatized,” she says. “I’m setting an example for other people: it’s okay to talk about suicide.”
At the end of the two-day course, participants will be given a mental health first aider certificate from MHFA, says Daugharty.
The fee is $125 per person, and includes the accompanying participant manual, valued at $45. She says she is willing to subsidize a small number of spots for people who want to participate but can’t afford to pay the full fee. “This is my passion project,” she says.
The Mental Health First Aid – Adults Who Interact with Youth course will be offered May 11 and 12, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. both days. Anyone over 18 can participate. To register, or for more information, contact Daugharty at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Gilchrist at email@example.com.
“I’m going to speak up. We all have to make it commonplace to talk about all of our problems, not just our physical ones,” says Daugharty.
“I’m happy to do this — anywhere I can help. Not to be selfish, but this helps me too: it’s very therapeutic.”