Feeling unsafe and growing empathy
By Lisa Seppala, True North Implementation
There have been a few times in my life, in both work and personal situations, where I’ve felt that I wasn’t physically or psychologically safe. In all those situations, I was able to work through my feelings and muster the ability to respond. They were short-lived experiences from which I was able to move on.
Recently, however, I was thrust into an unprovoked and alarming altercation with someone experiencing a serious mental health event. While I rose to the occasion in the moment, I felt physically unsafe and mentally traumatized afterward. The effects of that incident have somewhat receded. Still, I was astonished at how quickly negativity and fear took over, impacting everything in my work and personal life.
It was clear that the person suffering from the mental health event wasn’t in control or thinking rationally, and I called the authorities hoping they would be able to provide support.
I’m grateful for the support I have received from friends and family and for my strength, resiliency, and resourcefulness. I proved to myself that I could indeed rise to the occasion and do what is needed in the moment.
That said, the experience and its effects on me made me understand how ‘unsafe’ feels, both physically and psychologically. A lack of physical and psychological safety can be debilitating.
As a coach and as a practitioner in organizational psychological health and safety, I now have even greater empathy for others who feel unsafe in society and the workplace. And, I’m interested in learning more, much more, about how to respond to people in crisis. How can I both react in a way that can calm rather than exacerbate, and how can I preserve my own sense of safety in the process. With that in mind, I’ve just registered for the Mental Health First Aid certificate program offered through the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Taking that simple step is a way of reclaiming my power and adding to my toolbox for helping others.
For those who may have had similar experiences and feelings, I encourage you to reach out to the various available resources. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is an excellent conduit into the world of services, nationally and locally. And so too is the Canadian Red Cross with its Psychological First Aid training. Of course, if you are in crisis or a life-threatening emergency, call 911 or your community crisis line.