Florida invests significantly less in mental health care than most other states in the nation. We currently rank 48th for access to mental health care. This year, officials are considering laws that, if passed, would strengthen the state’s capacity to provide mental health services. Among them is Senate Bill 282, titled Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders, and its House companion bill (HB 795). These bills represent the forward progress Florida needs to make in addressing the state’s underwhelming approach to mental health care.
Introduced by Senator Darryl Ervin Rouson representing Hillsborough and Pinellas County, SB 282 proposes to expand the use of peer specialists in providing care for Floridians with a mental illness or substance use dependency. Peer Specialists would be any person who has recovered from a mental illness or substance use disorder who then supports a person with a similar affliction. Peer specialists promote a sense of community among the persons they assist, facilitating recovery and reducing health care costs. Health costs are lowered because care provided by certified peer specialists can be reimbursed through Medicaid and the Department of Children and Families. This bill has passed in the Senate and in the House (YEAS 114, NAYS 0). It will go to the Governor for his signature.
Another proposed law, titled Mental Health Professional Licensure (SB 566), would create stricter requirements to become a certified mental health counselor in Florida. SB 566 would improve Florida’s quality of care by emphasizing the importance of adequate education and training in mental health counseling.
While these two bills will provide better, more affordable mental health services, Florida still needs to heavily increase its investment to properly care for the more than 600,000 Floridians living with a mental illness. What’s clear is that Florida lawmakers need a better understanding of the difficult reality that so many Floridians find themselves in. Without access to mental health services individuals face a greater risk of suicide, legal issues, family conflict, employment issues, substance abuse and further mental and physical health problems.
What Can You Do?
Florida Voices for Health and the Health Care for Florida coalition are actively leading a campaign to expand access to mental health care. Floridians like you can help by: