Florida’s public schools will now require its students to attend mandatory mental health classes, starting in the 6th grade, following a vote Wednesday by the state’s Board of Education.
The new requirement means students will receive at least five hours of mental health classes each year until the 12th grade, according to the education board.
These classes will instruct students on how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to seek help for themselves or others. The classes will also educate students about resources available to them as well as what to do or say to peers who are struggling with mental health disorders.
“Time is a critical factor. Approximately 1 in 5 youth in Florida, and worldwide, experience mental health disorders prior to turning age 25,” the rule’s summary notes.
New York and Virginia became the first states to require schools to include mental health education in their curriculums last year.
Florida’s program is expected to cost $75 million for this upcoming fiscal year. It will be covered by the state legislature using a mental health assistance allocation, Florida Politics reported.
Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, who was appointed by her husband, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), to chair the state’s Children and Youth Cabinet in April, praised the program’s passage as an “important step forward in supporting our kids and parents.”
“As I travel the state, I am hearing from many families and know that 50% of all mental illness cases begin by age 14, so we are being proactive in our commitment to provide our kids with the necessary tools to see them through their successes and challenges,” she said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran similarly praised the program’s launch as “just the beginning” and vowed to transform Florida into “the number one state in the nation in terms of mental health outreach and school safety.”
“It’s no secret that mental illness robs students of the ability to reach their full potential, and we are joining forces to combat this disease and give our students the tools they need to thrive,” he said in a statement.
Florida, which is the third highest-populated state in the country, has consistently received low ratings in how it addresses youth mental health, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.
The mental health organization’s 2019 State of Mental Health in America report ranked Florida number 32, with 51 being the worst, in its assessment of the state’s youth. This ranking, released in May, is up from the 37 ranking it received in 2018.
Lower rankings indicate that the state’s youth have a higher prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of access to care. The list included Washington, D.C.
The state’s rate of youth suffering from major depressive episodes was found to have increased from 11.93% to 12.63% over the past year. Data also showed that 62% of these children received no treatment for their depression.
Florida lawmakers have rallied around amping up mental health programs and regulations in the wake of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a 19-year-old former student with a history of mental health problems.
In May, the state legally allowed trained teachers in certain Florida districts to volunteer as “school guardians” and carry a firearm as protection on school campuses. The law also expanded funding for mental health services to students.
The following mental health resources are available to anyone, regardless of their state of residence:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), provides free and confidential support for people in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources.
The National Helpline, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), provides treatment referral and information that’s free and confidential.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, at 1-800-985-5990, provides immediate crisis counseling to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters, including acts of mass violence or severe storms. Its counselors can also be reached by texting TalkWithUs to 66746.
The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator helps individuals find treatment facilities confidentially and anonymously.