Community members train as mental health coaches   

UF Dr. Carolyn Tucker leads the Tele-Mental Health and Well-Being Support Coaching Program.
UF Dr. Carolyn Tucker leads the Tele-Mental Health and Well-Being Support Coaching Program. (Courtesy Robert Houlihan/UF Health Cancer Center)

In East Gainesville, the availability of mental health services remains scarce even as stress, anxiety, and depression persist among residents.  

To help address the disparity, UF researchers joined the Florida Blue Foundation and a collaborative of local churches on a new community-centered mental health and well-being program.  

The Florida Blue Foundation’s 2021 Mental Well-Being Grants funded the program.  

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Through the program, local adults and youth train to become mental health and well-being support coaches, who will lead support groups for peers in the community.  

Leading the initiative is Dr. Carolyn M. Tucker, the UF Florida Blue Endowed Chair in Health Disparities Research, a research professor in the Department of Psychology, and the Director of the UF Health Cancer Center Community-Partnered Cancer Disparities Research Collaborative and the UF Health Disparities Research and Intervention Program. 

Tucker and her team have partnered with East Gainesville pastors who have strong ties to the community and speak to participants from a shared background or perspective.  

“We know that trust in health care providers predicts patients’ utilization of mental health care and the effectiveness of the care they receive,” Tucker said in a press release. “We must provide these community members with access to people they trust, who are their neighbors, to address myths and misconceptions about counseling and seeking support.”  

Pastor-Kenyarda-Feathers-of-Williams-Temple-Church-of-God-in-Christ-
Courtesy Robert Houlihan/UF Health Cancer Center Pastor Kenyarda Feathers of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ is a pastor-scientist for the Tele-Mental Health and Well-Being Support Coaching Program.

Pastor Adrian Taylor of Springhill Church noted that it is common for newer programs to be introduced in underserved areas. Still, there is often a lack of a connection to the community, so the results are never long-lived.  

“With Dr. Tucker’s program, we won’t have to worry about the lack of connections because we are working with institutions that are mainstays in the community,” Taylor said in an interview. “The faith groups have been in the community for over 100 years, assuring people that we are not going anywhere.”  

According to Tucker, studies have found that Black adults and youth experience further strains on mental health from persistent and social injustice.  

The Tele-Mental Health and Well-Being Support Coaching Program will equip 20 adult and 20 youth community members in East Gainesville to lead 10-member groups of 100 Black adults and 100 Black youth each year for three years.  

The UF researchers, community scientists, and members of the partner churches in East Gainesville will enroll participants and collect data to view the effectiveness.  

“There’s no health without mental health, but for far too long, there has been a stigma around discussions about mental well-being,” Florida Blue Foundation executive director Susan Towler said in a press release. “By training community members to provide mental health support at the peer level, we believe that Dr. Tucker’s program at the University of Florida can start to break down barriers to good mental health.”  

The team is now looking to enroll Black adults and youth (ages 12-17) in East Gainesville to participate in the mental health and well-being support groups, taking place virtually through Dec.15.  

If interested in joining or learning more, call Tucker’s team at 352-294-0652. 

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