For the past several years, mental health agencies in and around Tallahassee have formed a tight bond to help them address community needs. Now that coalition structure is being used as a model for the rest of the state in the wake of the Parkland school shootings.
Apalachee Center Executive Director Jay Reeve said the statewide spotlight on the local inter-agency arrangement was a big topic of discussion at a meeting in Orlando April 24th and 25th.
“This was the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and they had a large statewide meeting that was really focused on mental health in the schools as a consequence of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act,” he recounted.
The Florida Legislature passed that quickly during the final weeks of this year’s lawmaking session in the wake of the tragedy. It set up funding for a number of school safety initiatives, including more access by schools to mental health services for troubled students. Not surprisingly, Reeve said that was of great interest to the superintendents.
“Senator (Bill) Montford kicked it off, because he is the president/CEO of the Association. And he described it as an ‘unprecedented’ gathering. And I think he was right because I’m not aware of a previous time when all the school superintendents and folks from the various agencies involved with mental health issues were brought together to work on a plan.”
Reeve said the existing Mental Health Council of the Big Bend quickly became a model for how the schools can get these services to the students who need them.
“Working with local community mental health providers rather than trying to develop an internal stand-alone program to work with the resources the community already has, so it was a very positive experience and I think we’re going to see some interesting and innovative programming coming out of that across the state, but also here in Leon and the surrounding counties.”
He added there has already been one follow-up meeting.
“The first statewide steering committee for this plan that the Department of Children and Families held and it was real positive to see law enforcement, school districts, various agencies responsible for funding; everyone coming to the table and saying, ‘Here’s what we can do.’”
So what is the more local status of that effort right now?
“We are working with each school district to find out what would work best for them and we’re doing this in conjunction with our managing entity, Big Bend Community-Based Care and in conjunction with Disc Village and the other folks who have had contact within the schools. So I think we’re going to be able to craft individual solutions for each district, but ones that will touch all the bases for what the schools need, which is really a strongly enhanced mental health presence and conduit to emergency mental health services,” Reeve explained.
Despite all the positive movement, there remain challenges. Dr. Fran Close is a Pharmacy and Public Health professor at Florida A&M University. She said it can be tough to deliver mental health services to those who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge a problem even exists.
“In the African-American community it’s really looked at as something that you should be ashamed and embarrassed about; that family member that nobody talks about because they have ‘issues.’ And people are really embarrassed by that person.”
To help overcome the cultural stigma, a first-ever mental health wellness fair will take place on Tallahassee’s South Side later this month. It will happen May 29th at the North Florida Fairgrounds.