The lack of mental health staff and resources continues to be an issue within the state of Florida. Even though greater mental health access is a major focus these days, a recent report found that Florida schools are severely lacking in proper resources. This comes just days after a Parkland survivor, unfortunately, took her life by suicide after struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to the mass shooting.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently published a report highlighting that a majority of public schools in Florida don’t have enough mental health staff. The findings found that 22% of schools had no counselor on staff, 95% of schools have no school psychologist on staff, and 92% of schools had no social worker on staff. Even more shocking, the study found that 1.7 million students attend schools with no counselors or other mental health professionals, but with a police presence instead. The disparity of law enforcement to mental health staff in our schools raises the question of what is more important, prevention or punishment.
The ACLU recommends one counselor for every 250 students, but right now Florida’s ratio is much wider, with one counselor for every 554 students. The lack of mental health professionals can have immediate, short-term consequences, such as identifying young adults with mental illness who could be a danger to themselves or others. There are also longer-term repercussions, such as identifying emerging mental health disorders that lead to behavioral issues, which can get worse in adulthood and lead to hospitalization and incarceration. Conditions like ADD & ADHD, commonly diagnosed in children, can continue into adulthood. Many mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorders, also begin to emerge during adolescence and also contribute to behavioral problems if not properly identified by a trained psychological professional.
To their credit, many public schools are currently looking to increase mental health staffing. However, limited budgets and underfunding prevent most schools from hiring school psychologists and social workers. Many schools will soon be able to access money for mental health services from the Mental Health Allocation Plan, legislation that was passed in the wake of the Parkland school shooting last year. The state legislature set aside $6.2 million last year, and $500,000 annually, for school mental health services.
Even with the additional funding, many families are left to their own devices when it comes to finding and accessing mental health services and professionals. In addition to providing on-site counseling, school mental health workers are invaluable in connecting students and families with psychiatrists and therapists outside of a school setting. Raul J. Rodriguez, MD and his team work with children, adolescents, and emerging adults, such as college students, and are often a resource families turn to when school counseling is not enough. Our offices in Delray Beach and Boca Raton provide diagnosis, evaluation, psychiatry, medication management, and individual therapy in the treatment of most mental health disorders