Examining mental health strides 3 years after Parkland

Sunday will mark three years since a gunman opened fire in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. The shooting fueled nationwide calls for change in gun control and the state's approach to mental healthcare in public schools.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sunday, February 14th, will mark 3 years since a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 17 students and faculty were killed, and 17 others were injured. The shooting fueled nationwide calls for change – not just with gun control – but to Florida’s approach to mental healthcare in public schools.

Three years after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a community remembers, grieves, and reflects. Dr. Christine Cauffield is a clinical psychologist and CEO of LSF Health Systems in Jacksonville. She was part of the initial push to improve access to mental health services in Florida’s public schools following the Parkland shooting. She says being proactive is a must.

“We need to avert these tragedies,” Dr. Cauffield said. “We need to ensure that mental health services are in place.”

Dr. Cauffield says with the Florida legislature allocating $69,000,000 to go to these services, students and schools now have better resources.

She says every school now has counselors available during school hours. She also says the money was set aside for specialized mobile response teams. These are teams made up of clinicians that are deployed when a school resource officer calls, for example, and determines a child is escalating and in need of intervention. Dr. Cauffield says the team’s end goal is to de-escalate and assess whether a Baker Act is needed. She says they’re a crucial component.

“They really have reduced the need for Baker Acts,” Dr. Cauffield. “Because the clinicians can quickly assess, de-escalate the situation, and avoid a Baker Act.”

Dr. Cauffield also says parents and guardians should keep an eye out for behavioral changes in their children. Some of the main ones include sudden isolation, hanging out with a new group of friends, becoming involved with drugs or alcohol, and a drop in grades. These can be signs that your child may be suffering from a mental health condition.

While strides are being made, Dr. Cauffield says for more to happen, the mental health stigma still needs to be addressed.

“I think as we raise awareness on the strength it takes to acknowledge you’re having issues and reach out for help, I think that’s one step in the right direction,” Dr. Cauffield said.

Remembering 17 precious lives, and working to save others.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.