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Lawmakers seek better notification to bolster mental health in Florida schools

'Not everybody is sure where to go if they're having a mental health problem,' Rep. Christine Hunschofsky says
Mental health generic
Posted at 5:22 PM, Dec 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-14 17:27:13-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A bipartisan pair of state lawmakers have a plan to improve Florida's mental health with a bill next year. Its goal is a simple one: better inform families that help is out there.

Florida's national mental health rankings could be better. The annual assessment from the nonprofit Mental Health America places the state in the bottom half at No. 28.

Rep. Christine Hunschofsky
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky discusses the bill and how it could help children in need.

The report also shows Florida struggles most with mental health access, ranking 49th. Officials found many adults and children didn't receive treatment despite having insurance.

Florida law already funds public schools to connect students with mental health services, but lawmakers worry not enough are taking advantage because they don't know it's there.

"We all know that if we have physical health issues we call our doctor, but not everybody is sure where to go if they're having a mental health problem," said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, D-Parkland.

Hunschofsky, who was Parkland's mayor during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, has partnered with Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart to change things during the next session.

Sen. Gayle Harrell
Sen. Gayle Harrell teamed up with Hunschofsky on the bipartisan legislation.

The two lawmakers filed bills Monday requiring schools to notify a student's parents or caregivers of the local behavioral health options up for grabs.

"You can't just give help to the student," Hunschofsky said. "You need to give help to their entire environment often in these cases, and it's just making sure people are aware of the resources available to them, so they can take advantage of them."

In a statement, Harrell said she was pleased to continue her work on mental health access for students.

"It is very important that both parents and students have the information necessary to get the services they need," she said.

The bipartisan partnership will likely give the bills an edge in the GOP-controlled Legislature. Plus, the two lawmakers are hopeful the governor will support the effort as he seeks to boost school mental health dollars by $20 million in next year's budget.

The session starts in January. Lawmakers have filed more than 2,000 bills so far, and more than 90 of them touch on mental health.