Gun Law Proposed In Florida Would Earmark Money For Mental Health Services : Shots - Health News Florida has had three mass shootings in 20 months. Twice before, there have been calls for more mental health funding from the state — to no avail. Will this time be any different?
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Mental Health Funding Tied To Florida's Controversial Gun Legislation

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Mental Health Funding Tied To Florida's Controversial Gun Legislation

Mental Health Funding Tied To Florida's Controversial Gun Legislation

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A package of more restrictive gun measures passed its first hurdle yesterday in Florida when the state Senate approved it. The measures include more money for mental health care, something that has been called for after each of Florida's recent mass shootings, from the one at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to last month's shooting and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Julio Ochoa from WUSF reports.

JULIO OCHOA, BYLINE: In today's dollars, Florida is spending 40 percent less on mental health than it did in 2000, says Melanie Brown-Woofter, with the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.

MELANIE BROWN-WOOFTER: That means that there are fewer providers or fewer sources that the individuals can access.

OCHOA: Since 2000, the state has increased funding for mental health services by $218 million. But, she says, that hasn't kept up with inflation and the 4 1/2 million people who have moved to Florida since then.

BROWN-WOOFTER: We have been concerned that this system of care has not been adequately funded over the years to be able to ensure that there is access to care for those who need it.

OCHOA: The shooting in Parkland shifted the focus in Florida and nationally to mental health. President Trump and other leaders were quick to call the 19-year-old man who killed 17 people at his former high school mentally ill. Governor Rick Scott called for $500 million for school safety, including giving young people more counseling and crisis management. He brought it up at a recent stop in Tampa.


RICK SCOTT: Florida is never going to be the same, and we got to make sure Florida is never the same. We've got to make sure we have common sense solutions to make sure every parent knows that their child's safe.

OCHOA: Plans in the state House and Senate are attached to controversial gun legislation. But the mental health part would provide nearly 90 million more dollars for mental health resources, including $69 million for schools. Right now there's roughly one school psychologist for every 2,000 students in Florida. Experts say there should be four times that. Dr. Mark Cavitt is a psychiatrist at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. He says the renewed interest in funding is a good start, but...

MARK CAVITT: It alone is not going to prevent the next episode of mass violence.

OCHOA: Lawmakers stress that early detection of mental illness is key to keeping another school shooting from happening. But Cavitt says there are other factors like drug and alcohol use and gun availability, and more research is needed to fully understand mass shooters. Melanie Brown-Woofter says legislators are putting the money in the right places, more counselors in schools and training to help school employees identify people with mental illness.

BROWN-WOOFTER: We're really pleased to see the attention and the awareness of the importance now of mental health services in the budget.

OCHOA: Survivors of the shootings may need ongoing treatment, and more counselors in schools could help students and parents get through situations like this. Fifteen-year-old Hayes DuJardin worries that the same thing could happen at his school in Lakewood Ranch, south of Tampa.

HAYES DUJARDIN: Parkland versus my school - they're very similar in the way they're, like, set up. And so kind of everyone was asking, how are we preventing this from happening here?

OCHOA: In the days following the shooting, officials around Florida chased down dozens of threats. Hayes was so disturbed by one that he brought it to his mom, Michelle DuJardin. It had a picture of a teen holding a gun with the words, get ready for round two, Florida.

MICHELLE DUJARDIN: It's terrifying. When an incident like this happens, you can't help but be angry, scared.

OCHOA: The legislation is in Florida's House now, and the session ends on Friday. If they pass it, it heads to the governor's desk. For NPR News, I'm Julio Ochoa in Tampa.


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