After alarming trends in youth suicide, the state’s Children and Youth Cabinet met to discuss progress on preventative measures.
The number of youth suicides has been steadily increasing in Florida over the last 20 years, according to data from the Department of Health.
Cabinet members met Tuesday to discuss the progress of a workgroup the cabinet launched to address youth suicide and stigmas surrounding mental health in minority communities so that “all children in Florida grow up safe, healthy, educated and prepared to meet their full potential,” said Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) Secretary Simone Marstiller.
The workgroup was organized by the AHCA and made up of doctors, university faculty, health industry professionals and Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.
Workgroup members determined in the short term a statewide media campaign to create awareness should be implemented using funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Another recommendation from the group was to create networks through faith and community-based initiatives where families can receive education about, and referrals to, mental health care resources. Marstiller said this could be done quickly through Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Faith and Community-based initiative already in place.
Members of the workgroup also suggested, in the short term, to improve mental health professional training related to reluctance of minority community members to engage with care.
For long term improvements, workgroup members suggested partnering with the University of South Florida. That partnership would help create a compendium of resources to deal with stigmas around mental health in minority communities and among youth, develop strategies to normalize mental health communication by talking with youth and minority community members about what causes mental health issues, and engage universities, professional licensing boards and other professional organizations to provide outreach to minority communities and youth.
Marstiller pointed out the recommendations “highlight the power of peer support and faith-based initiatives in normalizing conversations surrounding mental health.” Marstiller said peer support works particularly well with young Floridians facing mental health issues.
Marstiller also said in order to solve the issue it’s important, especially in minority communities, to understand why the stigma around mental health exists in the first place.
First Lady Casey DeSantis, chair of the Children and Youth Cabinet, pointed to an initiative already in the making through the Department of Education (DOE) that will help “empower” Florida’s students in an effort to change the narrative around mental health “to one of resiliency and hope.”
“We do not want our kids feeling like victims. We want them to feel empowered to be able to make a difference in their own lives,” the First Lady said.
That initiative, said DOE Division of Public Schools Chancellor Jacob Oliva, is an online toolkit called CPALMS. The resource creates “resiliency” by building skills like responsibility and organization through activities such as gratitude journaling.
Oliva said the toolkit has courses for students and resources for teachers so students can learn how to apply those skills across different subjects.
“We shouldn’t just assume that students walk into our classrooms with these skills. These are skills that need to be taught and expanded upon,” Oliva said.
To build on the CPALMS initiative the State Board of Education plans to launch a tool to deal with “character education and substance abuse standards,” DeSantis said.
“I think Florida is really leading the nation when it comes to this, in a way, and really framing it by empowering our students to be resilient just by having hope and positivity,” DeSantis said.