Duval County schools welcome state's focus on mental health

Legislature considers $100M in mental health funds in school security bill

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Improving mental health programs for teenagers is one aspect of Florida Senate Bill 7026, a sweeping, $500 million school safety bill that passed the state Senate on Monday and is now being debated in the House.

A Duval County School Board member and a Jacksonville psychologist welcome the additional focus on mental health in addition to the current emphasis on physical health.

The mental health components of the bill include:

  • $69 million for mental health assistance
  • $18.3 million for mobile crisis teams and 
  • $500,000 for mental health first aid training

Board member Becki Couch said the district has been asking for additional funding for years.

"Our students come from neighborhoods that have trauma. They’re exposed to a lot of things. We’ve seen this even recently in the news, with traumatic situations with gun violence for our kids," Couch said. "We need that support for our students. So this funding would really certainly help with that."

DOCUMENT: DCPS mental health initiatives

Psychologist Dr. Justin D’Arienzo said most mental health issues -- like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder -- begin to show up in teenage years.

"I’m hoping there will be some programs in that bill that will provide greater awareness (on) different programs that build character, as well as teach students what they need to look out for," D'Arienzo said. "Teach students to be situationally aware and teach students that it’s OK to talk when they’re worried about another student."

Couch said getting funding to decrease the student-to-guidance counselor ratio would be a major step in the right direction.

D’Arienzo said it’s also important for both teachers and parents to look out for signs of mental instability in children.

Some of those signs include: 

  • Sudden change in personality
  • Isolation or alienation
  • Talk of threats
  • Sudden change with friends
  • Using alcohol or drugs suddenly

D’Arienzo said parents need to be looking at their child's social media to make sure there aren’t any worrisome posts. Anyone who sees one or more warning signs in a child or student, should tell someone, whether it's a school official or a mental health expert.

At a meeting Tuesday evening School Board is expected to approve additional funding for school security measures beyond what the state is considering.

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