- Senator Tina Polsky and Representative Hillary Cassel introduced legislation on Thursday to address the shortage of mental health professionals in the state
- Senate Bill 1102 and House Bill 1057 aim to establish a mental health profession scholarship and loan forgiveness program within the Florida Department of Health.
- The program offers students enrolled in graduate-level psychology or social work programs scholarships of up to $8,000 per year in exchange for 12 months of professional mental health workers in an area with a shortage of professionals or as faculty in their field of study.
Two Democratic state lawmakers, State Senator Tina Polsky and State Representative Hillary Cassel, introduced legislation on Thursday to address the shortage of mental health professionals in Florida.
“We must address this critical shortage of mental health professionals which is even more acute because of increasing need across our state,” said Polsky. “We are in a crisis and we need this quick action to attract more students to the field.”
The proposed legislation would establish a mental health profession scholarship and loan forgiveness program within the Florida Department of Health.
Eligible students are required to be enrolled in a graduate-level program in psychology, clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, or mental health counseling. Recipients of the scholarship would receive it for two years, with a maximum payout of $8,000 per year. According to the language of the bill, the Department of Health plans to award as many as 5,000 scholarships annually should the necessary funding be made available.
Upon receiving the scholarship, each participant of the program must agree to work for twelve months in either mental health services in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals or as a faculty member in their field of study for every year they are awarded the scholarship.
“Rates of anxiety and depression are increasing, especially in our young adults and children,” said Cassel. “It is imperative that we have enough mental health professionals to meet the needs of Floridians.”
Florida currently ranks 42nd in mental health worker-to-patient ratio, with almost 3 million adult Floridians in need of mental health care. Furthermore, an estimated 191,000 youths experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Florida has a high rate of mental illness, with approximately 20 percent of adults experiencing some form of mental illness in a given year.
Florida also reports a suicide rate higher than the national average. In 2019, Florida’s suicide rate was 14.4 per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 13.9 per 100,000 people.