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A place making a difference

It is the only mental health institute in the state and one of the largest in the country. It is also a statewide research and training institute that is in charge of improving the well- being of Florida’s citizens. The Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) was created in 1970 to complement the state’s hospitals and comprehensive community mental health centers.

Sen. Louis A. de la Parte was able to expand the role of FMHI in the 1970s as a provider of outpatient services for those who cannot afford treatment.

David Shern, dean of FMHI, said since the institute’s creation, the research and training programs have dramatically improved.

“When we were first funded, the institute was very strong in clinical operations,” Shern said. “We have moved toward a more institutional care to focus more on the community health care and mental health in a community-based setting.”

Shern said the institute is also in charge of developing new insights into mental, addictive and developmental disorders to improve service systems and treatment.

“It is critically important to continue the study of mental health,” he said. “We need to bring mental health issues out of the closet and need to help better the law.”

A part of USF since 1974, the facility, which was constructed for $16-million, is part of the research development and teaching at the university. In 1999, FMHI was asked by the state Department of Children and Families to lead the Florida Commission on Mental Health and Substance Abuse to help review the state’s public mental health and substance abuse service system and to make recommendations for possible changes.

Shern said in the last 20 years the institute has made improvements to its services in Tampa Bay and the state. In the Report of Institute Activities for 2000-01, it reports that the 23-member Commission, which FMHI helped lead, gave its findings and recommendations to the Florida Legislature in 2001 and found that there are also many people with mental addictive disorders who get less than optimal care and in some cases no care at all.

“We have come a long way and gathered a lot of information,” Shern said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

The Commission also discovered that no one is attending to the overall state system, and no one is leading or providing a strategy for delivering services for treatment. As a result, legislation was passed to establish a workgroup to investigate mental health. FMHI was selected to head that workgroup, and it continues that job today.

Shern said the institute is comprised of three research departments that aid in the investigation of mental health in Florida. One is the Department of Child and Family Studies, which conducts work regarding the needs of children with serious emotional disturbances or developmental disabilities and the needs of children at risk. The Department of Aging and Mental Health is another branch of FMHI. It focuses on the mental health needs of an aging population and the health care professions serving the elders. Also, there is the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, which conducts research and training on the relationship between legal and mental health systems and the development and implementation of public policy.

Shern said in addition to those departments, FMHI will now offer a minor for students in behavioral health care.

“It’s a brand new program for undergraduates,” he said. “It has two missions: to translate the knowledge from USF to the community and to reach the university for people who want to be better trained.”

For example, Shern said a student who is majoring in criminology might want to minor in behavioral health care to combine academic and experimental learning apply those skills to career positions in the field. He added that during the last eight to 10 years, FMHI has consistently expanded the number of teachers in its departments. Before this new minor, only graduate students were able to study at FMHI.

“Students can get more concrete skills to be better employed,” Shern said. “We are very excited at this new opportunity.”

Still, with the new minor and continuing research at FMHI’s three departments, Shern said the institute’s goals for the future include building on its existing and potential areas of national leadership.

“There is a tremendous amount of work being done, and the research is important because there is still a lot left to do,” he said. “We need to add to what research we already have.”

For more information about the FMHI’s undergraduate minor in behavioral healthcare, contact the institute at (813) 974-4672 or visit its Web site at

Contact Stefanie Greenat