Mental health advocates celebrate progress in Tallahassee

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Mental health advocates are celebrating what they’re calling a big year in Tallahassee. Florida consistently ranks among the lowest for mental health funding and services, but this year’s state budget included a new line item of $126 million in recurring funds for mental health issues.

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Several bills were also passed to help make access to services easier.

“Mental health services across the board, things like mobile crisis teams, and family teams, as well as the new implementation of the three digit phone number, 988,” Eric Welch said. Welch is the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, of Greater Orlando.

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Welch says the implementation of a three-digit suicide hotline, 988, is a top priority now as the number goes live nationwide in just four months. He expects that to increase call volume by 300-700%.

The money is just one piece of what’s being celebrated out of this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers also passed three key bills to address mental health issues: SB 282 bolsters Florida’s peer specialist program, SB 1262 will make it easier for families to access emergency behavioral services, and SB 1844 aims to destigmatize mental health care for children by eliminating the court process.

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“There have been more bills with mental health around them than I have ever seen,” Welch said. “I used to have a one-pager, with just a couple of things we’re working on. This year, it was five pages. Some great bills were passed, some budget allocations were passed, and we’re very hopeful that this will continue in the future.”

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.