The state of Florida voted forward requirements that students in sixth grade and above be given at least five hours of education on mental health each year. In a statement, Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis explained that 50% of mental health issues surface by the age of 14, so these programs represent a proactive approach to assisting children and families.

These programs will be required and include instruction in:

  • Recognizing mental health issues
  • How to find help for mental health issues
  • Information on the available resources
  • Communication ideas and tactics to help children relate to friends who may have mental health issues or disorders

Budgeting for the program will come from the Florida Education Finance Program, that provides regular funding as well as an allocation for mental health work to counties statewide.

The programs will be a part of the governor’s continued efforts to work on mental wellness and substance abuse prevention in the state. In 2019, the first lady launched a coalition of organizations called Hope for Healing Florida that offers positive support to people who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues. Their services will include suicide prevention, treatment resources, bullying prevention, safe or refuge services and mental health support.

The shift in approach represents a more positive mentality surrounding mental health issues. Government-funded programs in schools are one way to extend support and awareness. The two other states who have already taken these measures are Virginia and New York.

In Virginia, mental health education is mandated after advocacy work by Senator Creigh Deeds and Delegate Robert Bell promoted and passed a bill that went into effect on July 1, 2018. In Virginia, standards of learning for grades nine and ten include mental health education. Some districts in the state have counselors in the building whose sole purpose is promoting students’ mental health. Other districts host freshman seminars so that students can begin high school with an awareness of mental health issues.

New York’s education system presents mental health information to all students, from elementary age and up. New York was the first state to enact these policies. New York’s law does not require curriculum but provides for modifications of the subject matter already being taught to include mental health education.

Resources for Educators, Teens, and Parents

Each state that has enacted these laws has extensive resources in their public health departments for substance abuse prevention. Many law enforcement offices provide addiction prevention programs in schools. Family resources are often available through treatment centers and counselors.

Real Talk is a powerful resource for educators and students in Florida. Miss Florida 2019, Michaela McLean, and other contributors provide speaking engagements on school campuses that help open an authentic discussion about substance abuse. You can learn more about this resource and how to book a program for your school online.