A new mandate in Florida now requires public schools to provide a minimum of five hours of mental health education for students, beginning in the sixth grade. The state Board of Education approved the widely lauded policy on Wednesday.
“We know that 50 percent 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,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis, according to the Orlando Sentinel. DeSantis has been instrumental in getting the new policy passed and says, “Providing mental health instruction is another important step forward in supporting our families.”
Casey DeSantis and Hope for Healing
DeSantis has prioritized addressing the issue of mental health in the state of Florida. She recently launched the Hope for Healing initiative, which will examine the state’s spending when it comes to substance abuse and mental health. Another goal of the initiative is to help Florida residents be aware of the mental health resources available to them. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know what’s out there,” she said.
Speaking to The Florida Times-Union, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran described the benefits the new mental health training will have for students, saying, “We’re going to have a tremendous amount of awareness and just common sense solutions. So if all of a sudden a friend comes to school and starts talking about serious negative thoughts about their life, [the student] knows exactly how to handle it, what to say and where to go.” It is not yet clear whether the new policy will be implemented this coming school year.
The State of Student Mental Health
Studies show that mental health issues are a significant concern for youth in America. According to Pew Research Center, “Serious mental stress is a fact of life for many American teens,” with recent years demonstrating a rise in depression among teenagers. Besides data on stressed out teenagers, Pew also cited research stating that less than half of young people who had significant depression received treatment for it within the past year when the study was conducted.
Other data from Pew found teenagers themselves recognize that mental health is a concern. Seventy percent of teens believe that anxiety and depression are serious problems for their peers. In fact, the majority of American teens believe that mental health is more of a concern than drinking, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and bullying. Also, the National Alliance on Mental Illness says that “One in five youth live with a mental health condition, but less than half of these individuals receive needed services.”
While there is a lack of mental health resources available to public school students, more and more states are beginning to take action to address that need. Last year, New York and Virginia became the first two states to pass laws requiring mental health education in public schools. New York now requires such education for K-12 students, while Virginia requires it for students in the 9th and 10th grades.
After the board approved the mandate, Corcoran said, “We are going to reinvent school-based mental-health awareness in Florida, and we will be the number one state in the nation in terms of mental health outreach and school safety.”
On Twitter, DeSantis wrote, “I thank the State Board of Education for their vote today…This is an important step forward in supporting our kids and parents.”
I thank the State Board of Education for their vote today to require every Florida public school to provide students in grades 6-12 with at least five hours of mental health instruction. This is an important step forward in supporting our kids and parents.
— Casey DeSantis (@FLCaseyDeSantis) July 17, 2019