Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bill Mandates Instruction on Mental Illness

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bill Mandates Instruction on Mental Illness

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- Donna Smith has seen how children react to her 17-year-old daughter when they find out she is mentally ill.

"They don't want anything to do with you because they honestly think you're crazy," said Smith, whose daughter suffers from manic depression.

Smith, a resident of Jacksonville's Southside, and other mental health advocates are pushing a proposed state law that would require public schools to give beefed-up instruction about mental illness.

The proposal, which began moving through the House yesterday, would require detailed lessons about topics such as depression, suicide and brain deterioration. Backers hope it will help some students realize they need mental health treatment, while making other children more knowledgable and tolerant about mental illness.

"I want the kids to know that their classmates are taking medication for a reason, and it's not a bad reason," said Rep. George Crady, a Yulee Democrat who is sponsoring the proposal (House Bill 675).

The bill, however, has raised concerns from some lawmakers and educators who question whether teachers have enough time and training to teach the subject. Under the proposal, students would learn about mental illness in kindergarten through 12th grade, meaning thousands of teachers would have to receive training in the subject.

"Will the teachers have the time to teach this subject along with all of their other duties?" Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania, asked Crady yesterday during debate in the House Education/K-12 Committee.

School officials in Duval and Clay counties said the bill would require more detailed lessons than students now receive. Kathy Bowles, Duval's health-education supervisor, said it might be hard to squeeze the instruction into health classes, which in middle school are limited to 45 days.

"We're running out of days and time to incorporate everything," Bowles said.

The Education/K-12 Committee voted 8-2 to approve the bill, though members changed it to take effect in 2001 instead of 2000. The bill still must pass two other committees before it can go to the full House. …

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