Mental Health Does Not Discriminate: An Interview with Dr. Shariq Refai

by | Jul 1, 2024 | Mental Health | 0 comments

When Shariq Refai, MD, MBA, was a young college student at the University of North Florida, a friend told him about a job opening for a technician at a psychiatric...

When Shariq Refai, MD, MBA, was a young college student at the University of North Florida, a friend told him about a job opening for a technician at a psychiatric hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Refai, who was looking for a way to earn some extra money, took the job without knowing much about it. He ended up enjoying the position so much that he worked there for three years, setting the foundation for his lifelong career in psychiatry.


“I enjoyed connecting with people from so many different backgrounds. I was able to see how mental illness didn’t discriminate, affecting both the homeless and millionaires alike. Working with people in such diverse situations helped me realize that mental illness is universal,” he shared. This fueled his passion for psychiatry, leading him to pursue a career dedicated to making a significant impact in the lives of others.


“Anyone can struggle with mental health, which inspired me to pursue a career where I can make a difference in people’s lives. Seeing patients go from their lowest point to thriving within days of receiving proper treatment has been significant for me. While it may not involve life-saving surgery, providing hope and effective care can make the difference between living and surviving, ” said Dr. Refai. 


Dr. Refai’s Education and Training 

Dr. Refai’s journey in psychiatry started at St. George University School of Medicine, and he completed his training at the University of Hawaii and John Peter Smith Hospital residency programs. He credits these diverse training environments for shaping his approach to psychiatry.


Dr. Refai faced unique circumstances at St. George’s University in Grenada. The country significantly differed from where he grew up, and Grenada encountered issues commonly found in third-world countries. Power outages during class and water shutdowns during late-night study sessions were not uncommon. Category five hurricane, Ivan, swept through the school during his time there, ravaging the island as well.


“It was tough, but looking back, it helped foster a sense of unity among the students. We learned to work together, and it tested our grit. It reminded us of the importance of community and the essentials of life at the time. Being in an island environment without the comforts of home also helped me realize that mental illness doesn’t discriminate and affects people similarly, regardless of where or how they live,” he said.


Training in Fort Worth, Texas, exposed him to a metropolitan area where mental health struggles spanned all socioeconomic statuses. “I was surrounded by millionaires who had the best of everything, yet they still faced mental health struggles just the same as those on the opposite end of the economic spectrum,” he noted. “It reinforced the idea that mental illness is universal and can affect anyone. Regardless of someone’s socioeconomic status, whether they have nothing or have everything, mental health is an important topic to address.”



Athletes and Mental Health

“Athletes face unique mental health challenges due to the immense pressure to perform, the impact of their injuries, and during transition periods in their lives like when they retire,” Dr. Refai explained. “It’s also crucial to consider that they can’t be on any medications or treatments that affect weight, cause drowsiness, or slow their performance,” he explained. Those are things he must keep in mind when serving as a consultant to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL substance abuse program.


Athletes are a key focus of Dr. Refai’s practice, requiring a specialized approach to mental health care. He concentrates on understanding specific stressors or lifestyles that can cause or trigger mental illness. Dr. Refai offers interventions that enhance performance and coping strategies for mental health struggles on and off the field.


“It is crucial to take a holistic approach because sometimes medications are not the solution. It is essential to build trusting relationships as athletes need to feel understood and supported in their unique circumstances, not unlike anyone else,” he emphasized.


Innovative Treatments for Dr. Refai’s Patients

Dr. Refai has incorporated advanced treatment modalities such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) into his practice. These nontraditional treatment modalities have provided new hope for patients who suffer from treatment-resistant depression.


“For many years, the primary treatment for depression was mainly medication, which left around thirty percent of patients without any significant benefit because some people just wouldn’t respond. Recently, we’ve explored alternative treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which goes beyond the traditional methods of treatment,” he explained.


Dr. Refai introduced this idea to Jacksonville, Florida, in 2014 with his organization. He has been providing noninvasive care for eight years and has helped hundreds of people achieve remission from their treatment-resistant depression.


He has also utilized electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which involves the use of electric currents to induce controlled seizures. ECT is an advanced treatment used for severe depression in patients where medication is not effective.


“Although there is a stigma surrounding ECT, modern electroconvulsive therapy is both safe and effective. It offers rapid relief for patients with severe needs and is performed in the operating room under the supervision of an anesthesiologist and a psychiatrist. For some patients, it proves to be more effective than medication,” he expounded.


Bridging Medicine and Business

Dr. Refai holds an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, along with his other medical degrees. This unique combination has been instrumental in his ability to manage his practice efficiently.


“My business degree has helped me recognize that success is a team effort relying on collective talent and dedication. Any business, regardless of its size, depends on the quality of its people,” he said.


His business education has played a vital role in improving his skills in practice management, strategic decision-making, and financial management, allowing him to optimize operations.


“My MBA has given me the ability to analyze data, understand market trends, and implement effective business strategies, enabling me to optimize operations, enhance patient care, and efficiently expand our services,” he stated.



Expert Care at Your Fingertips: shrinkMD

Dr. Shariq Refai has established a renowned mental health practice that combines medical expertise with a focus on holistic care. His influence extends across multiple states, including Florida, where patients seek out his dedicated approach. He has been featured in various publications for his commitment to mental healthcare.


Dr. Refai’s expertise in medicine and business has allowed him to create shrinkMD, a virtual platform that directly brings expert mental health care to people’s homes. Through shrinkMD, he can offer high-quality and compassionate care to patients, fulfilling his vision of making mental health services more accessible.


Reflecting on his career, Dr. Shariq Refai shared, “My primary goal has always been to help as many people as possible and to be the best at what I do. It brings me tremendous joy to have such a significant impact on people’s lives through shrinkMD.”


ShrinkMD enables patients to virtually connect with mental health care professionals to address a wide range of mental health challenges using a holistic approach. To learn more about Dr. Refai and virtual mental health care, please visit https://shrinkmd.com/.

Riley George

Riley George


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