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Supporting My Husband Through His Panic Attacks

My husband had his first panic attack in his late 40s when he was driving – alone – through a rural area on his way to a business meeting. He stopped at a rest area to get gas and a snack. Not long after resuming his drive, he suddenly felt like his throat was closing up. Convinced that he was going into anaphylactic shock from the peanuts he had just eaten, he drove to the nearest emergency room, where they gave him a shot of ephedrine, monitored him for a while and sent him on his way armed with extra EpiPens and a big hospital bill.

The next few weeks were scary for both of us, but mostly for my husband. After potential physical causes were ruled out, he was told that it had probably “just” been a panic attack brought on by the stress of work and a very unpleasant boss.

After this incident, I wanted to learn more and be better prepared to support my husband. I attended a Mental Health First Aid training held by my employer. After the training, I brought my Mental Health First Aid manual home with me, where it sat, lonely and untouched, because my sweet partner was sure that what had happened to him was a one-time event – and even if by some chance it did happen again, he would just power through it.

Then one night we were sitting downstairs watching television when he said, “I feel funny.”

I said, “Are you going to throw up?”

He said he didn’t think he was going to throw up, but he wasn’t making any promises.

“What are you feeling?” I asked.

He said he was feeling kind of chilled, but also sweaty. He felt like his heart was beating too fast … and that his throat was becoming constricted.

“Hold on,” I said. “Let me go get that book.”

I grabbed my Mental Health First Aid manual and turned to the chapter on First Aid for Mental Health Crises – specifically, “First Aid for Panic Attacks.” I read the list of symptoms and he met about three-quarters of them. We followed the instructions for what to say and do when someone is having a panic attack – stay calm, reassure him that he wasn’t dying, etc. The most reassuring part was being able to let my husband know that the worst of it would probably be over in 10 minutes.

Now, several years later, my husband still experiences anxiety at times, but therapy and using medication as needed have prevented full-blown panic attacks. But, if a panic attack happens, we are both better prepared for it, thanks to the information we gained through Mental Health First Aid.

Mental Health First Aid helped me be a strong support system for my husband and helped him better understand what he was going through. Sign up for a Mental Health First Aid class near you and learn the tools to support your loved ones when they need you most.

Wendy Fayles is a trained Mental Health First Aider.