Mental Health First Aid

One in five Americans has a mental illness, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, but now thanks to Catholic Charities of Central Florida help is available.

“There is the potential for all human beings with mental health issues to recover,” said Catherine Galda, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Program Director Behavioral Health Services for CCCF.

“Through an eight-hour certificate program called Mental Health First Aid, we are educating participants to assist people in need of connection and treatment in meaningful ways. First aiders are trained to provide education, support, understanding and connection to real treatment and support services.”

The program was created in 2001 in Australia and implemented in the United States in 2008. More than one million Americans have been trained since. In addition to the primary program dealing with adult mental health, there is also a program designed specifically for youth.  Catholic Charities of Central Florida began implementation of the Mental Health First Aid program in December 2017 – adult programs are already under way and the youth program is scheduled to be rolled out this fall.

“I give this class a score of 10 out of 10,” said Jude Sotherlund, a 13- year volunteer with Catholic Charities who serves on the Brevard County Advisory Council and was instrumental in bringing the Adult Mental Health First Aid program to Our Savior Parish in Cocoa Beach February 3. “It gave me ideas that I can put to use immediately – especially how to be comfortable reaching out to someone. We can be too busy and not take time to engage with others. This class gave me tools to help me feel safe enough to help someone get the help they need.”

The program utilizes an interactive engaging approach to help inform participants on the warning signs and indicators of mental health issues- like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and more. The program seeks to equip individuals with concrete skills they can use in their day to day lives while also informing participants of accessible resources.

“I learned many positive things,” Sotherlund continued. “It’s a good resource to have to understand what people might be going through. We have a moral obligation to live our faith every day, helping those in a fragile state – it should be part of our DNA.”

Galda is particularly passionate about the Mental Health First Aid program offered through Catholic Charities. She has both personal and professional expertise in mental health trauma. Her family was directly impacted by the tragic events in Newtown CT, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. As a result, Galda understands the need for equipping young people, and the adults who work with them with tangible tools to address the mental health crisis in our country in.

Galda was able to use her skills to provide assessments and recovery programing for the Sandy Hook community for more than three years and subsequently conducted trainings for Catholic Charities in helping individuals coping with trauma in the wake of the June 12, 2016 Pulse Club shooting in Orlando.

“For me, this is taking care of my brother or sister,” Galda said. “It’s Christ-like. The experiences God offered me as a very young girl have brought me to the place of knowing this is what I’m meant to do. That gives me joy,  peace and purpose – and a lot of work!”

The next Adult Mental Health First Aid Training is open to the public and scheduled in Orlando on April 4th and 6th   at the Catholic Charities Main Campus located at 1819 N Semoran Blvd. Each section is from 12-4 pm with lunch served. Both sections must be completed to become a certified mental health first aider. To sign up contact Program Assistant Kyle Osborn at 407-658-1818 ext 1069. Check back for additional classes throughout the Orlando Diocese. Also see

By Laura Dodson, Florida Catholic Correspondent – March 7, 2018