Mental health is a growing concern for the Florida House candidates at the largely-rural district eight, which is home to Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.
This facility was originally a general mental health hospital, but now serves as a facility to prepare people with mental illness to face court hearings.
Candidate Clarence Jackson says this problem is personal for him.
“This issue is near and dear to my heart," Jackson says. "I will fight like heck to make sure that, number one, we keep
Florida State Hospital viable, not just for jobs, but we get back ... to making a place where people can get the type of help they need and not just be a source for the criminal justice system to get people ready to go to court.”
In order to improve mental health in the district, Jackson and Candidate Brad Johnson want to erase the stigma around it.
Johnson says it all starts with better education.
“You have never seen a great community thrive that was unhealthy and uneducated," Johnson says. "This is an issue where it collides. This is an issue where health collides with the miss-education or non-education. A lot of people live in the fog when it comes to mental health.”
However, Jackson says a lack of education prevents residents from getting help.
“We tend to criminalize mental health," he says. "So what happens is that people who suffer from mental health, they are least likely to get the help because they are embarrassed to say that they have a mental condition. So, what I believe we need to do, number one, is we need to let people know that mental health is a condition.”
Candidate Dianne Williams-Cox is calling for equal access to health insurance so residents can afford to invest in their mental health.
She says Florida representatives need to push for better funding for Medicaid and hospitals in order to improve mental health care.
“Healthcare is very important to make sure that our people receive the kind of help that they need," Williams-Cox says. "If mama sees that something’s not quite right with her son, she can take him to the doctor to get an analysis. But if there’s no health insurance, she can’t do that. So we need to, again, provide the funding.”
Meanwhile, Ramon Alexander wants to address mental health at the ground level. He says he wants to increase interest in it by reaching out to the community.
“I’m committed to curating a single mother’s conference district wide, where we’re able to go in (and) identify our resources," Alexander says. "I know 83 percent of the young people I work with everyday single day come from single parent homes. Mothers are working two or three jobs. So, I’m committed to bringing that grass root type of leadership, that excitement, that commitment and taking that cause and kicking that case to the legislature to advocate for more funding.”
The Democratic candidates spoke on WFSU’s Political Perspectives on Tuesday. They also discussed job growth and the environment. Listen to the podcast here.
For more news updates, follow Tori Whitley on Twitter: @victoriahart2.