Delray Beach Faith Leader Breaking Down Mental Health Barriers in Haitian Community

West Palm Beach, FL— Freslaine Saint Louis, a youth minister at Bethel Evangelical Baptist

Church in Delray Beach, FL, has become a trailblazer for removing the stigma and fear around mental

health in Palm Beach County’s Haitian communities. She recently became one of the first Creole speaking trainers in the county for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), a nationally renowned eight-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or

experiencing a mental health crisis.

 

As a youth minister, Saint Louis understood that the first place many congregants will turn when they have a problem is their pastor. She also knew that in a Haitian church there was resistance and fear around the term “mental health,” which conjures up images of people with severe conditions, rather than recognizing it can also describe everyday stress and anxiety.

 

Saint Louis was introduced to MHFA through Healthier Delray, a Palm Health Foundation initiative

focused on behavioral health. Recognizing the training’s potential to reach the parents of her church’s

700-member congregation and teach them how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental

illnesses and substance use disorders among their children was vitally important to her.  

 

“As a youth minister, I feel that the children’s lives are in all of our hands,” said Saint Louis. “We can’t be passive. We need to have difficult conversations, or we’ll lose our children when their anxiety and stress turns to substance abuse.”

 

Although there was resistance at first, Saint Louis persevered, advocating alongside the first lady of

Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church, Filise Jules, a mental health professional. MHFA is now not only

accepted, it has grown through word of mouth and parents are realizing the benefits of learning how to

communicate and engage more with their children. The program has become so deeply embraced by

the church that they are working on making MHFA a requirement for its leadership curriculum.

 

“In a county as diverse as Palm Beach County, understanding various cultures and their belief systems

about mental health is the first step towards promoting better brain health,” said Patrick McNamara,

president and CEO of Palm Beach County. “We are a firm believer in supporting residents like Freslaine to lead health initiatives in their own communities. They know better than anyone what resources are

needed and the best approaches to deliver them to create change.”

 

Funding for Saint Louis to provide MHFA training came through a grant made to Palm Health Foundation

by Florida Blue Foundation in November of 2018. The funding provides free MHFA trainings for 2,000

African American, Haitian and Hispanic adults residing in the foundation’s Healthier Together communities, including Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Lake Worth, Riviera Beach/Northern West Palm Beach, Jupiter and the Glades. MHFA is delivered in partnership with Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

 

Saint Louis provides MHFA in Creole and English throughout Palm Beach County. To learn more, please

visit https://www.alpertjfs.org/mental-health-first-aid/.

 

 

About Palm Health Foundation

Palm Health Foundation is Palm Beach County's community foundation for health. With the support of donors and a focus on results, the foundation builds strong community partnerships, respects diverse opinions, advocates for its most vulnerable neighbors and inspires innovative solutions to lead change for better health now and for generations to come. The foundation supports health equity for Palm Beach County residents of all backgrounds, heritage, education, incomes and states of well-being. Palm Health Foundation has invested more than $80 million in Palm Beach County health since 2001. For more information about Palm Health Foundation, visit palmhealthfoundation.org or call (561) 833-6333.