Hospitals team up to offer free mental health training

Mental Health First Aid is free course open to all Northeast Florida residents

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several hospitals have come together for a new campaign offering free mental health training in the Northeast Florida area. 

One in five adults in the United States experience mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

After the results of the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment found that Northeast Florida ranks second-lowest in the state for mental health funding, Brooks Rehabilitation, Baptist Health, Mayor Clinic, St. Vincent's HealthCare and UF Health decided to team up to address the issue.

"Our goal is to take the fear and hesitation out of the conversation about mental health by providing an action plan that teaches (people) how to safely intervene," Brooks Rehabilitation CEO Doug Baer told News4Jax Thursday. 

Health care leaders said access will help achieve that goal.

Mental Health First Aid is a free, eight-hour course that teaches people how to understand, identify and respond to signs of mental illness. 

The program's goal is to train 10,000 first responders and residents over the next three years. The course is open to anyone in the community.

Several officers and first-responders with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office have already completed the training, with 3,000 officers to be trained in all. 

"We recognize that many times, criminal acts are committed by people who are really having a mental health crisis," said JSO Department of Patrol and Enforcement Director Michelle Cook. "And we're left kind of holding the bag with this person, who's obviously in a crisis, and taking them to jail is not necessarily the best option."

In 2014, police said, Henry Harriford murdered his mother in her home. Harriford had been committed for psychiatric evaluation no less than 17 times, but never got the treatment he needed.

Health care providers said many people just don't recognize the signs of behavioral health issues, so they're left untreated.

"In addition to their physiologic needs, they have underlying depression, they have another mental health illness that needs to be dealt with effectively. We have patients coming in every day to our emergency departments in acute psychiatric crisis," said St. Vincent's HealthCare COO Tom Vanosdol. 

According to the latest Community Health Needs Assessment, more than one in eight emergency room visits are related to mental health. Local hospitals have made a commitment to offer more resources. For example, St. Vincent's is hiring additional mental counselors.

Health care leaders said the new initiative will help more people get the help they need when it comes to mental and behavioral health.

For more information or to enroll in the course, visit