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Florida budget, policy disregards mental health

In light of an unprecedented surge of mass shootings in the U.S., public concern has been fixated on issues pertaining to gun violence and control. Despite the importance that gun control plays in these events, there’s an underlying problem that has lacked significant
attention: mental health.  

Mental stability is an important factor that affects how a member of society will fare in his or her community. Florida ranks 49th in per capita mental health spending, with an average appropriation of $38.17 per person, according to PolitiFact.

An eight-year evaluation of Florida’s mental health and substance abuse treatment spending between the years of 1997 and 2005, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), paints a grim picture of its mental health allocation profile.  

On a per-state basis, SAMHSA ranks Florida “substantially below” average in mental health personnel, state mental health agency revenue and mental health and substance abuse specialty centers, and “below” average in a myriad of others, including general hospital and special hospital spending on mental healthcare. Ironically, Florida ranks above and close to average in total physician and prescription drug spending, respectively.

This statistical anomaly has been attributed to the state’s emphasis on treatment rather than prevention, Rob Siedlecki, assistant secretary for Mental Health and Substance abuse for the Florida Department of Children and Families. said to the Miami Herald.
The policy’s successes are few and far between, with the state ranking “above” average in
suicide and property crime rates and “substantially above” average in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and violent crime rates.

These figures make a compelling case for reform, yet the Florida legislature has consistently put mental health and substance abuse (MHSA) spending at the bottom of its list. The original draft of the 2013 Florida budget called for a historically high cut of $83 million in MHSA appropriation, amounting to a 25 percent reduction from 2011-12 levels, according to the Gainesville Sun.

The figure was eventually reduced to $2 million, in part due to lobbyist efforts representing Florida’s mental health centers, but still serves as a stark reminder of Florida’s disregard for mental health.

It’s worth considering whether an extra dollar in the budget of a community mental health center could rehabilitate a drug addict or prevent the suicide of a teenager. Proactive, preventative measures have a penchant for reducing future burdens, whether monetary or otherwise, and mental health has never been an exception.