Catherine Galdes seeks to open 'The Bethany House' in honor of her late daughter, who died at 16

DEARBORN — Standing in the parking lot outside Dearborn High School on Sept. 10, students released balloons filled with messages of encouragement: “You got this,” one balloon said. “You are not alone,” said another. 

As the balloons drifted toward the blue sky, students were reminded that they, too, did not have to walk alone in life. 

For Catherine Galdes, who organized the event, the meaning of the day reached far beyond her job as an occupational therapist for Dearborn Public Schools. Galdes lost her daughter, Bethany, to suicide in 2014. Bethany was just 16 years old and had struggled with depression for five years following the sudden death of her father from a massive stroke. 

“Suicide prevention isn’t something I think about one day or one month a year,” Galdes said. “It’s something I think about every day, every minute.”  

Student members of the Active Minds club at Dearborn High School release balloons with inspirational messages written on them on Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, as Catherine Galdes take a photo. 

The event for World Suicide Prevention Day was hosted by Active Minds, a national organization that aims to open up conversation around mental health in teens and young adults. Galdes is the adviser of the Dearborn High chapter.

Since losing Bethany, Galdes has made it her mission to help other families who are struggling with depression. 

“There’s so much I didn’t know then that would’ve changed the way I did things,” Galdes told Detroit Catholic. “Some studies say if you lose a parent before the age of 14, the chances of developing depression increase by 50%. When my husband died, I would not have said she was a depressed child.” 

Kirsti Reeve, a therapist and clinical supervisor with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan who presents to parishes and community groups about anxiety and depression, says the difference between sadness and depression can be subtle in the beginning.

“Sleeping and eating patterns might change; activities that used to be fun for that person are no longer enjoyed, and multiple areas of a person’s life can be impacted — their school life, friends, family,” said Reeve, who will give a talk on suicide prevention later this month at the Engaging the Young Church Conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit. “The ages from 12 to 22, in particular, are difficult for many people.”

Catherine Galdes holds a photo of her daughter, Bethany Anne Galdes, who died in 2014. Galdes hopes to start an alternative treatment facility she plans to call The Bethany House to help other young people who struggle with depression.

As Bethany went through high school, she became increasingly anxious and sad, Galdes recalled, eventually being hospitalized twice upon recommendation from her doctors. The experience of being in the hospital traumatized Bethany; after returning home, she exhibited increased anxiety, poor concentration and sleep issues. 

Just days after posing for her senior portraits, Bethany died.

Galdes wants to see a change in treatment options for teens and young adults with depression, including care facilities that specialize in depression. Currently, by law, hospitalization in a psychiatric unit is the only option for children at risk of suicide.

A month after Bethany passed away, Galdes' sister arranged for a priest to celebrate a special Mass in her back yard on what would have been Bethany's 17th birthday with Galdes and 70 friends and family. The next year, as they gathered again, a friend suggested that Galdes start a foundation — a recommendation she took to heart.

Later this month, the Bethany Anne Galdes Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness about depression and gather resources for treatment approaches and research, will mark its fourth year with a Founders Day Celebration. 

The primary goal of the foundation, Galdes said, is to open an alternative care facility for young people at risk of suicide that will use evidence-based treatment and cognitive behavior therapy focused on overcoming depression. Galdes envisions the center as a warm, welcoming environment that’s an alternative to traditional hospitalization. She already has a name for it: The Bethany House.

A water bottle that reads “Stigma Free Water” rests on a table as students meet in the computer lab at Dearborn High School as part of the Active Minds club on Sept. 10.

With contractors and an architect, Galdes toured a now-vacant convent at a parish in the Dearborn area as a possible site for The Bethany House. The convent is in disrepair, but the layout is just what they need. 

“I always had a vision of the third floor as a place where people could come to pray, and when I walked in, it looked exactly like that place, down to details like two gabled windows,” Galdes said. “Whether or not the convent is meant to be The Bethany House, it gave me hope.”

Galdes said she has already met with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and Auxiliary Bishop Donald Hanchon about the possible project. 

Since she was in high school, Galdes said, she has been motivated by a prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Lord, only let me know your will.”

“As long as we continue to listen through prayer, I believe it will happen,” Galdes said. “God’s time is perfect timing. I’m just trying to be patient with whatever will come.”

A prayer committee meets regularly to pray for guidance in the board’s decisions and for the healing and health of those suffering with depression. A public policy committee works for better policy around inpatient treatment options, while a development and fundraising committee is working to raise funds to open The Bethany House.  

A student writes a message on a dove-shaped balloon: “You are important.” The Active Minds club at the Dearborn school seeks to give students an outlet to talk about their emotions.

While opening The Bethany House is the main focus of the foundation, volunteers are working hard in other areas as well. Beginning Oct. 7, the organization will host Mood Lifters, a weekly class for all ages to promote mental wellness and mood. 

“It’s hard and it’s heavy, but I won’t stop as long as He asks,” Galdes said. “I keep going because I know first-hand the heartache and the difficulty of not knowing what to do. I don’t want anyone to go through that.”

The Bethany Anne Galdes Foundation Founders Day Celebration will be held Sunday, Sept. 29, from noon to 3 p.m. at Nankin Mills Nature Center in Westland, including live music, a color obstacle course and a Cirque Amongus show. The first 200 people to arrive will receive a free t-shirt. For tickets, visit www.bagaldesfoundation.org and click on the events tab.

To learn more or volunteer with the Bethany Anne Galdes Foundation, visit the website or email Butterfly@BAgaldesfoundation.org.  

If you feel you’re at risk for suicide or need to talk to a counselor, contact Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan at (855) 882-2736 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.