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Dave’s Dream became real with creation of Mental Health First Aid instructor position

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

The goal of Dave’s Dream was to raise the funds to create and sustain a permanent Mental Health First Aid instructor position.


Julia Gaughan, Prevention & Education Manager

The dream became a reality when Julia Gaughan was hired as the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s Prevention and Education Manager in 2018. On April 2, Julia celebrated her five-year work anniversary.


Her work anniversary is also a celebration of Dave’s Dream and the goal to fund a fulltime instructor position for Mental Health First Aid.


“One of the purposes of Dave’s Dream was to make Mental Health First Aid more accessible, more frequently available, because it can do so much in terms of people helping other people,” Gaughan said. “That’s still very much true.”


Mental Health First Aid, which teaches lay people how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, was developed in 2001 by two healthcare professionals in Australia and the program has now expanded to more than 20 countries. In 2008, the Bert Nash Center was one of seven pilot sites in the United States to start training community members in Mental Health First Aid.


David Johnson retired as CEO of the Bert Nash Center in 2017. Before he retired, Dave’s Dream was established to raise contributions through the Center’s endowment fund to pay for a fulltime Mental Health First Aid instructor. Before Gaughan was hired, the Center had a handful of certified trainers in Mental Health First Aid who taught classes on top of their other fulltime responsibilities at the Center.


“It’s not my concern that we will ever outgrow the need for this training,” Johnson said at the time Dave’s Dream was established. “There will always be a need. The thing is that people use the skills they learn. It’s not a tool that rusts in the toolbox. It’s one that people take out and use. And, bottom line, it saves lives.”


In the five years since Gaughan became the Bert Nash Center’s fulltime instructor, there have been 251 Mental Health First Aid classes and 3,167 people who have been trained through the Center’s program.


“I first met Julia in September 2020, when I registered for my first Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. This was during the pandemic, so the course was held virtually. Even so, I immediately felt at ease with Julia. She is engaging, dedicated, caring and conducted the course so efficiently and interactively that the hours felt like minutes,” said Heather Marshall of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (SIMR). “We had just started a wellness program and word quickly spread about Julia’s course, through the Bert Nash Center. To date, Julia has conducted 10 MHFA courses for SIMR and trained 154 of our members. Congratulations, Julia, on your five-year anniversary and keep on making a difference.”


In 2019, Gaughan was named one of the top Mental Health First Aid instructors for Kansas by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which administers the program. The Council usually recognizes two instructors for each state.


Gaughan was scheduled to attend the Council’s national conference in April 2020 where she would be recognized as a top instructor. But the conference was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Gaughan couldn’t teach classes from March until August of 2020, with one exception — she taught an in-person class with the Lawrence Police Department and people were masked.


Gaughan still teaches more Zoom classes than in-person. In 2021, she taught more classes and more people than ever. Almost all online.


“Zoom classes are really accessible for people,” Gaughan said. “But in 2022, as more things were starting to open up, people were trying to navigate the new normal, and they were also tired of being on Zoom. They were ready to do more in-person classes.”


Besides teaching Mental Health First Aid to individuals, Gaughan has developed partnerships with organizations where she teaches multiple classes, including law enforcement agencies, the City of Lawrence, Haskell Indian Nations University, Berry Global, and Grandstand.


Gaughan was named a top Mental Health First Aid instructor again in 2021 and 2022. The National Council didn’t recognize top state instructors in 2020 because of the pause in teaching classes due to the pandemic.


“With the pandemic, more people have experienced firsthand symptoms associated with mental health concerns like anxiety and depression,” Gaughan said. “Thankfully, more people are talking about mental health, which means it’s crucial for people to have access to accurate information about mental health concerns as well as ways to offer support each other. This all makes Mental Health First Aid more important than ever.”


To support Dave’s Dream and Mental Health First Aid training, visit bertnash.org/donate.

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