Establishing a Mental Health First Aid Program

Lawmakers are once again trying to establish a training program that would help teachers identify the signs of mental illness. The bill died last year but the bill's sponsor likes its chances this time around.

Helping teacher’s identify the signs of mental illness in their students has become a priority for some lawmakers like Rep. Lori Berman of Boyton Beach, the bill’s sponsor. “The genesis of this bill was actually the Sandy Hook massacre.”

Under Rep. Lori Berman’s plan, mental health first aid training for school teachers and staff would be available from the Department of Children and Families. She hopes it makes spotting problem signs routine. “I think it’s important for us to invest the dollars and try to address mental health and substance abuse problems when they’re in their incipient stages.”

It would cost about 60,000 to train 30 teachers and other public servants in the program. Last year’s mental health bill died without finding sponsorship in the senate. This year, the bill has already made it through committees in both chambers

The Florida Education Association says that they'd be open to the training, but they want to wait and see a final draft of the bill first, according to Joanne McCall. “Absolutely, we would be interested in that, but, again, I say that with caution. Any bill that comes out, the concepts are great, it’s about the devils and the details and the implementation.

DCF’s Assistant secretary of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Nevin Smith says that the training could prevent a tragedy.

“If we can get early recognition then we can intervene in appropriate ways in order to redirect that activity so we don’t have a major problem”, say7s DCF’s Nevin Smith.

Also on the mental health front, another bill would fund mental health councilors for every school in the state.

Berman says that last year $100,000 dollars would have been allotted for the program if it passed. This year, the bill’s sponsors are hoping for more

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