Florida Public School Students Now Required To Take Mental Health Classes

Public school students across the state will soon be taking mental health courses as part of a new requirement that Florida’s education leader is calling a “life saver.”

Under the new rule approved by the State Board of Education, students in grades 6-12 must receive at least five hours of mental health instruction during the school year.

The action item cites a Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey with some startling statistics on teen mental health. 

According to the data, “28% of Florida high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row; 14% reported purposely hurting themselves without wanting to die; 14% reported having seriously considered attempting suicide; 11% reported having made a plan to commit suicide; and 8% reported a suicide attempt.”

First Lady Casey DeSantis teamed up with Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to get this measure approved.

“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,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Providing mental health instruction is another important step forward in supporting our families.”

Back in May, DeSantis created Hope for Healing Florida, a new multi-agency mental health and substance abuse campaign. 

She has since been traveling around the state to host listening sessions focused on raising awareness about mental health and substance abuse resources, prevention methods and removing the stigma attached to the topic. 

“Through our Hope for Healing campaign, we are shining a spotlight on mental health and substance abuse and working to remove the stigma surrounding these issues,” she said at the latest listening session. “Seeking help is not something to be ashamed of, and at the end of the day, getting help and living a productive life is what is important.”

Corcoran praised DeSantis and her commitment to crafting this policy.

“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, all because of the governor’s and First Lady’s remarkable vision,” Corcoran said in a statement. “It is going to be a life saver and it will reduce the stigma.”

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said school districts would be in charge of selecting the types of courses the students will take based on the following topics:

  • Recognition of signs and symptoms of mental health disorders

  • Prevention of mental health disorders

  • Mental health awareness and assistance

  • How to reduce the stigma around mental health disorders

  • Awareness of resources, including local school and community resources

  • The process for accessing treatment

  • Strategies to develop healthy coping techniques

  • Strategies to support a peer, friend, or family member with a mental health disorder

  • Prevention of suicide

  • Prevention of the abuse of and addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and drugs

There’s been a big push for mental health education following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Ben Gibson, a member of the State Board of Education, believes this new rule will help students seek out mental health resources without worrying about the perception.

“Obviously, this is going to help students who are currently suffering from mental health issues, you know, thoughts of suicide, attempts of suicide,” said Ben Gibson, a member of the State Board of Education. “But the thing that is going to be the best thing is that it is going to reduce the stigma and it is going to educate the other healthy students who can identify folks within their peer group who are going through this.”