Florida public schools will now be required to offer at least five hours of mental health instruction to all students in sixth through twelfth grades every year.
The state Board of Education unanimously voted on Wednesday to approve the new requirements, which are part of a mental health initiative spearheaded by Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, the wife of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Ron and I have traveled the state and have heard from many families who voice concern about the struggles that adversely affect so many of our children," the first lady said in a statement. "We know that 50 percent of all mental illness cases begin by age 14, so we are being proactive in our commitment to provide our kids with the necessary tools to see them through their successes and challenges. Providing mental health instruction is another important step forward in supporting our families.”
Under the new mandate, public school students in grades six through 12 must take courses every year related to youth mental health awareness and assistance to grades sixth through twelfth.
The courses must include instruction that will help them identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness, take them through the process of getting or seeking help for themselves or others, provide awareness of the resources available, and teach them what to do or say to their peers who are struggling with mental health disorders.
“We are going to reinvent school-based mental-health awareness in Florida, and we will be the number one state in the nation in terms of mental health outreach and school safety, all because of the governor’s and First Lady’s remarkable vision,” the state's Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a statement released following the vote on Wednesday.
A study published in 2016 by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that one in six children in the country, aged 2 to 8, had a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.
Depression and anxiety are the most common diagnoses among adolescents, aged 12 to 17, while behavior problems are most common among children aged 6 to 11, according to a study published in 2018 by The Journal of Pediatrics.