Lawmakers seek better notification to bolster mental health

TALLASSEE, FL – A bipartisan pair of House members has a plan to improve mental health in Florida with next year’s bill. Its goal is simple: to better inform families that help is there.

Florida’s National Mental Health Ratings could be better.

An annual assessment from the American nonprofit Mental Health Organization places the state in the bottom half, at number 28.

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Representative Kristen Honchowski discusses the bill and how it can help children in need.

The report also shows that Florida struggles the most with access to mental health services, ranking 49th. Officials found that many adults and children did not receive treatment despite having insurance.

Florida law already funds public schools to connect students with mental health services, but lawmakers are concerned about not benefiting enough because they don’t know it exists.

“We all know that if we have physical health issues, we call our doctor, but not everyone is sure where to go if they have a mental health problem,” said Representative Kristen Honchowski, D-Parkland.

Hunschofsky, who was the mayor of Parkland during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, engaged Senator Gail Harrell, R-Stuart to turn things around during the following session.

Senator Jill Harrell

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Senator Jill Harrell collaborated with Hunschofsky on bipartisan legislation.

The two lawmakers introduced two bills Monday requiring schools to notify a student’s parents or caregivers of local behavioral health options available for takeover.

“You can’t just help a student,” Hunschofsky said. “You need to provide help to their entire environment often in these cases, and that just makes sure that people are aware of the resources that are available to them, so they can take advantage of them.”

In a statement, Harrell said she is pleased to continue her work on reaching students’ mental health.

β€œIt is very important that parents and students have the information they need to get the services they need,” she said.

A bipartisan partnership is likely to give bills an advantage in the Republican-controlled legislature. In addition, the two representatives hope the governor will support these efforts as he seeks to increase school mental health dollars by $20 million in next year’s budget.

The session begins in January. Lawmakers have introduced more than 2,000 bills so far, more than 90 of them related to mental health.

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