It was November and the grass was as green as ever at our Nova Scotia home. My nemesis, pesky thistles were multiplying by the hour in the mild temperatures. I was able to take two long walks each day. The early setting sun was the only hint that winter was only three weeks away.


On one of those mild evenings, I was scrolling through Facebook, you know, to see what was new. Who got a new car? Who sold their house? Who won the GOLDRUSH this week? Who motored to Halifax for medical attention? Whose mother-in-law has overstayed her visit?

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In the midst of my scrolling, an ad caught my attention, an ad for a Mental Health First Aid course taking place at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, a world class facility devoted to understanding, researching and treating mental illness.

This piqued my interest because I share my mental health story with all sorts of groups and accurate information is vital. I am not qualified to diagnose or counsel, but I would like to know how to talk to someone who may recall painful memories as I tell my story of abuse.

The course dates were December 27 – 28th. Huh? Yes, two days after Christmas. What was I thinking or was I thinking? Drunk or high from too much “Thistle Tea.” I naively believed those dates would be as mild as November.


On Boxing Day I realized the course began at 8:30 a.m. the next day and I would have to leave home by 6 a.m.

  • What if the weather was bad?
  • What if there were accidents on the 401?
  • What if I had trouble finding the hospital?

I made a snap decision to book a hotel room, pack my suitcase and leave right away because I did NOT want to get up at 5 a.m. I pulled into Whitby’s  Residence Inn by Marriott before dark, with the temperature hovering around -20°, a far cry from November in Nova Scotia and not a single thistle greeted me.


When morning dawned, it was just as cold or colder and there were more things to consider. Should I take the bus or drive myself to the seminar? Neither one. I took a short ride in an already warmed-up taxi to the Main Entrance at Ontario Shores which was a good decision. For the next two days, I was “Melda the Student” for the first time in many years and my mind was like a sponge as I tried to soak up as much knowledge as possible.


Mental illness is more accepted than it used to be, but our society has a long way to go until we give it  the same respect as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Depression is an illness, and those who have it can’t shake it off any more than someone with cancer or kidney disease can shake it off.



Please, please, please treat mental illness like the physical disease it is because the brain is a complex, physical organ. Did you know that our body filters the blood that enters the brain? It’s called the Blood Brain Barrier or BBB (NOT the Better Business Bureau).

I completed the course and I am waiting for my certificate from the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Next course? safeTALK  on January 25th, followed by ASIST followed by Understanding Mental Health Concerns in Children and Youth on March 5th.

I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed for flip flop weather.