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Behind the Scenes: What’s being done to address student mental health

Jacksonville residents and leaders are recognizing that we all have a shared duty to ensure that all of our city’s children have the opportunity to learn and develop. Mental health has come front stage as an important factor that impacts educational outcomes for students. Most recently, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Nikolai Vitti, encouraged the community to advocate for more funding to go towards mental health services for students.

Florida currently ranks 49th out of all 50 states for mental health funding. This push for additional funding was sparked by the recent release of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and analysis of district crisis hotline calls. The 2015 YRBS revealed that 27 percent of middle school students and 20 percent of high school students had contemplated suicide. About half of the 1,087 calls received on the district crisis hotline were related to suicide.

So what is being done? There are a number of resources in place to help students and their families receive the help they need. In addition to hotlines, there are also services being offered by the United Way’s Full Service Schools (FSS). FSS provides “a critical range of therapeutic, health, and social services and addresses non-academic barriers to success in school.”

Jacksonville Public Education Fund is in the second year of evaluating an FSS pilot that has placed therapists in 12 schools in the Jean Ribault High School feeder pattern.Though the initiative is still young, this multi-year evaluation hopes to demonstrate a shift in school culture surrounding mental health. The hope is that FSS programs can create a culture that centers around an increased awareness and knowledge among teachers and administrators of the signs and symptoms of student mental health issues, a decrease in student disciplinary action and, eventually, improved academic outcomes for the students.

Also underway over the last few years, JCCI launched an inquiry that would end up in a collaborative system of mental health advocates. This system advocates for mental health in the state legislation, informs and engages the community, and works to coordinate services for individuals and families in northeast Florida.

At their recent presentation, “Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida,” the collaborative explained their work over the last two years. There were seven task force subcommittees formed around (1) strategic plan and legislative action, (2) coordination of care, (3) funding, (4) professional training and licensure, (5) decriminalizing mental illness, (6) managing severe and persistent mental illness, and (7) public awareness and early identification. Out of these task forces, they highlight many successes, which included getting state legislators to increase funding for mental health for the first time in over 10 years. To see the full report, please click here.

Although it may seem that mental health is just the latest fad, the Jacksonville community -- individual people, organizations and collaborative groups -- have  been working for years behind the scenes to help improve the state of mental health on a macro-level and locally. Let’s keep this work and topic at the forefront to help benefit our students, their families, and ultimately all of our lives. We are, in many ways, living up to our obligations to Jacksonville’s children and our city by acting together. There’s more to do, but Jacksonville is coming together to make good things happen.