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Legislature to evaluate mental health spending


Florida legislators will be taking a more comprehensive look at the state’s mental health system, which is ranked 49th in the country in per capita spending.

Since 2007, mental health spending for the Department of Children and Families has dropped by $67 million to $726 million, according to the Florida Times-Union.

Bob Sharpe, president and CEO of Florida Council for Community Mental Health, said the state does a better job funding care for physical health conditions than for behavioral conditions.

“Some of that can be accounted for by stigma,” Sharpe said. “Some of it is that people don’t believe that the conditions are brain disorders or that we have proven treatment techniques for them.”

Florida’s mental health spending is about $39 per citizen per year, Sharpe said. He said funding for a more comprehensive behavioral health system could be accomplished if mental health issues were treated and funded like other diseases.

Recent incidents, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook, have brought attention to the topic of mental health.

“The difference is that periodically there are events that prompt the general public and policymakers to talk about the issues more than they would normally,” Sharpe said. “Sandy Hook is one of those incidents.”

Sharpe said he has been consistently lobbying the Legislature to reform the current state of the mental health system. He said that Florida must implement a mental health first aid program just as Arizona did after the Tucson shooting in January 2011.

“We’re going to spend a lot of time advocating for changes and improvements,” Sharpe said. “Hopefully this year will be unlike others we’ve had in the past.”

Mike Llerena wrote this story online.

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