NewsPinellas County


USF St. Pete gets $10 million to train educators to spot mental health issues

Posted at 6:35 PM, Feb 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 04:33:14-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Florida leaders are investing in mental health care for students across Florida.

Leaders at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg recently recieved a $10 million grant to train teachers across Florida to better spot mental health struggles.

That's crucial for Lisa Pearison, a mom with three kids under the age of three and a daughter due any day now. Pearison stays busy, but she always finds time to invest in her children’s mental and physical health.

“It’s important that those needs be addressed,” she said.

She’s also learned her kids all have different ways of expressing their needs.

“Maybe the older sibling is fine but the younger sibling isn’t voicing those concerns as quickly or as easily on the surface,” Pearison added.

That’s where a new $10 million grant comes into play. USF St. Pete will use the money to lead mental health awareness training in schools statewide, helping teachers, school counselors, principals, parents and even bus drivers recognize the first signs of mental distress in kindergarten through 12th graders.

Dr. LaDonna Butler says some key signs children could have issues with their mental health might include, “if a child is not as outgoing as they used to be or if there is any changes in their behavior," she explained. "What's more complicated is differentiating between whether it’s a behavioral concern or truly connected to mental health.”

Butler is happy to hear that mental health is becoming more of a focus statewide, including inside classrooms.

“This is an exciting time where we are investing time, talent and dollars into making sure our students are set up for success. Mental health is just as important as physical health,” Butler said.

The grant money comes from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Bill, which is aimed at making schools safer across Florida. USF St. Pete leaders hope early intervention will connect kids and families with resources sooner.

Martin Tadlock, the regional chancellor of USF St. Pete says that's important.

“Investing in an early age is critical. We have a large percentage of our students who receive mental health services here at the university and that number has been increasing,” Tadlock said.

USF educators will travel across Florida to train school leaders, helping to erase the stigma of mental health along the way.

The university will also coordinate training for local schools to identify and prevent sex trafficking, suicide and substance abuse.

This is the third time USF St. Pete has received money for training initiatives. In 2018, USF St. Pete's K-16 educational initiatives received a $2.2 million grant. In 2019, it received an additional $5.5 million grant.