Stop the stigma: UF Health Jacksonville joins effort to bring mental health training to the public

When someone is not breathing, there is CPR. If someone is bleeding, there is first aid. And now when someone is suffering a mental health crisis, there is training on how to offer support. UF Health Jacksonville has once again partnered with other health systems to launch a local initiative, which takes its origin from the national Mental Health First Aid training program.

UF Health Jacksonville has been collaborating with Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic and St. Vincent’s HealthCare to provide courses that teach people in the surrounding communities to identify, understand and respond to the signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.

“Most people with mental health problems are not identified and receive no treatment, placing them at risk for significant problems, including suicide,” said Steven Cuffe, MD, a psychiatrist at UF Health Jacksonville. “If we can expand the number of people who are able to understand mental illness and substance use disorders, and are able to help identify and respond to those affected, more people will be able to enter treatment sooner.”

 That is the purpose behind this new initiative. Early identification and treatment is the best way to help people with mental illness, and it can save lives in the process. Mental health has been a top priority for Jacksonville’s health institutions since the release of the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment evaluation.

The CHNA reported the death rate from suicides was higher in Nassau County than the statewide rate. According to the report, suicidal thoughts also increased by more than 10 percent, with serious consideration and attempts by girls rising by more than 25 percent in Duval County Public Schools compared with data from the 2013 CHNA report. This trend is why health care organizations in Jacksonville made it a priority to bring this specialized training to Northeast Florida.

Mental Health First Aid is a free eight-hour course that teaches participants how to provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or is experiencing a crisis. The course is open to anyone, but first responders are among the initial groups to receive the training locally. More than 500 members of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office have already completed the training, with 3,000 to be trained in all.

Mental Health First Aid’s goal is to take the fear and hesitation out of starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems by improving understanding. It also provides an action plan that teaches people to safely and responsibly identify and address a potential mental illness or substance use disorder.

“As Americans, we have grown too accustomed and almost numb to the multiple tragic, violent acts often performed by people suffering from mental health disorders,” said Nipa Shah, MD, a family medicine physician at UF Health Jacksonville. “Whether it’s someone who is depressed and homicidal, someone who is schizophrenic, or someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, very few people know how to manage a person who is exhibiting signs of mental distress.”

For more information on Mental Health First Aid or to sign up for the training course, visit

Featured Faculty

Steven P. Cuffe, MD, FACPsych

Steven P. Cuffe, MD, FACPsych

Chair, Department of Psychiatry; Program Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship; Clerkship Director

Nipa R. Shah, MD

Nipa R. Shah, MD

Chair, Department of Community Health and Family Medicine