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Mental Health Experts Recommend Ways To Reduce Violence

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida leaders are considering pouring more money into mental health care and experts in the field released some suggestions on Thursday.

The Florida chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness has been working with state leaders on solutions.

“This is a tipping point in Florida, it really is,” said NAMI Florida’s director Alisa LaPolt. “We've known for a long time that Florida has ranked near the bottom in access to mental health treatment and services. We have an opportunity to make some changes.”

LaPolt says schools should be partnering with health care providers in the community to screen all students for mental illness. Those who are found to be at-risk or who already have a mental health condition should be referred to providers in the community for treatment.

“Right now there’s not a statewide comprehensive approach to mental health services in schools,” LaPolt said. “Over the years, we’ve even seen school nurses taken out of the schools.”

NAMI also recommends that Florida spend $4.6 million more on a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to treat people with early warning signs of psychosis.

“The sooner you intervene with a person going through a psychotic episode, the more likely they are to get into recovery and have a relatively normal and productive life following the event,” LaPolt said. 

Finally, she said the state should invest in public awareness programs that would help people identify the signs of mental illness.

“We need to keep talking about mental illness in the workplace, mental illness in schools, in communities, because the more we talk about it, the more we understand it,” she said.

LaPolt said it's important to keep in mind that most people with mental illness are not violent.

There are factors that increase the risk of violence in a few people with mental illness, she said. Those include alcohol and drug abuse, untreated psychosis, being young and male and most importantly -- a past history of violence.

“So it's less about the mental health status and it’s more about previous violent behavior,” LaPolt said.

People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, she said.

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.