The suicides of two students who survived last year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland have shaken the community and the state. Their deaths, which occurred in the past week, have state leaders looking for answers.
“Mental health was an issue before that, but I think when you see two suicides like that, we want to bring in stakeholders and see if there is something that is being missed,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis held what they called a “Listening Session on Mental Health” at the Governor’s Mansion Thursday afternoon.
“We want to hear from folks, and figure out what the state could be doing more, what the local communities could be doing more, and try to fight it,” Gov. DeSantis added. “I want to know what was done in Broward and what they could have done because I think it’s important to know.”
Casey DeSantis says you only have to look at the statistics to see how big of a problem suicide is in Florida. She says suicide was the 8th leading cause of death in Florida in 2017.
“Clearly, this is a serious problem and one that we need to get right,” the first lady said. “As I take over chairmanship of the Child and Youth Cabinet, I really look forward to making mental health one of its key components.”
Florida’s leading behavioral health advocacy group couldn’t agree more. Melanie Brown-Woofter, president and CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, suggested the Governor and First Lady’s leadership would provide a major boost to improving awareness and increasing access to prevention programs. Brown-Woofter’s statewide group, headquartered in Tallahasee, works to ensure that Floridians have access to a comprehensive and effective system of coordinated mental health and substance abuse treatment services.
“Just as there is no single cause of suicide, there’s no single prevention effort that will reduce suicide rates,” said Brown-Woofter. “It’s a matter of increasing awareness and access to Florida’s proven mental health infrastructure. The governor and first lady’s leadership in this crisis will save lives in the future.”
The purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to get various state agencies that deal with mental health issues on the same page, communicating and sharing what each agency is doing to address mental health problems in the state.
After the Parkland shootings the state Legislature appropriated $69 million to local school districts to help identify troubled students and prevent future tragedies like the Parkland tragedy in which 17 students and staff members.
Jared Moskowitz, the state’s director of emergency services, lived in Parkland and graduated from Stoneman Douglas High School. He told the governor that the suicides of two students who survived the shooting have reopened the wounds that are still fresh from last year’s shooting.
“If I can say that the scab was healing, which I’m not even sure that it was, it’s been ripped off based on what’s been going on in the past week,” Moskowitz said.
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez applauded the governor and first lady for bringing the various state stakeholders to the table to share and work together to address mental health issues and suicide prevention.
“For far too long the state has really been quiet in its approach to mental health,” Nuñez said. “I think this is a new day.”
“I’ll listen to what you have to say. I’ll listen to your ideas and listen to your recommendations,” DeSantis told those representatives of agencies who attended the meeting, including the Department of Health, Agency for Health Care Administration, the Department of Education, the Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“If there is a clear path for us to act that would be beneficial then I am obviously willing to do that,” DeSantis told the group. He instructed members to continue working together to find solutions to the state’s mental health problems.