Experts: 1 in 5 kids have mental health issue

Published On: Jan 24 2013 05:09:21 PM EST

Ho New / Reuters

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

One in five kids in Florida schools have some sort of mental health issue, according to the state’s Department of Education.

The department’s Steven Wheeler, Ph.D., said, “That would mean we would expect about half a million of our children and adolescence in Florida have mental health issues.”

The estimate was given to a legislative committee in Tallahassee on Thursday to paint a picture of the need for a funding increase. Mental health experts told the committee they are not getting any more money today than they were in the 1950s.

One of the less costly items being discussed is lengthening the time someone can be held under the Baker Act for involuntarily examinations. The act currently allows people feared to be a danger to themselves or others to be held three days.

Gov. Rick Scott is being urged to fully implement the national health care act because it would provide money for mental health.

The good news given to the Healthy Families Subcommittee is that there’s time to help children when their mental health issues are detected.

"There are seven years of warning before a child becomes a serious violent offender,” said Wansley Waters, of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

But the warning signs are often ignored and even with years of acting out, experts say there isn’t enough money to meet the needs of 70 to 80 percent of the cases.

"I still get the same $1 million to operate this program that I did 13 years ago,” said John Romano, a mental health provider.

State Representative Linda Stewart, a Democrat from Orlando, said she believes diverting the tax already collected on guns and ammunition could be one source of funding.

"We need to take those children when they're identified in the classroom and go ahead and try to put them into a program when they can be taken care of early,” Stewart said.

According to mental health experts, if the state were to fully embrace the national health care act, it would cover a million people in Florida, and free up money for mental health.

"There are ways to save substantial dollars that would pay for everything you need to do, because we are spending money in wrong places,” said Bob Sharp, of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.

According to Sharp, that money is being spent on emergency rooms, hospitals and prisons, instead of vital mental health services.

House Speaker Will Weatherford said he anticipates law makers will find a resolution.

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