TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Starting this year, public school districts in Florida will have to make sure they are teaching middle and high schoolers about mental health. 

  • Minimum of 5 hours of mental health instruction required for grades 6-12
  • School districts can create their own programs
  • Instruction has to include signs and symptoms, resource info

The Florida Board of Education voted Wednesday that every public school must offer a minimum of five hours of mental health instruction to students in grades 6 through 12.

That instruction has to include:

  • Awareness of signs and symptoms
  • Process for getting or seeking help for themselves or others
  • Awareness of resources
  • What to do or say to peers struggling with mental health disorders

Each school district will be able to create its own program to meet those requirements, and figure out how to fold that instruction into the school year.

The mandate is part of a push by the DeSantis administration to address mental health in Florida.

The Florida Department of Education says mental and emotional health has been part of required instruction in schools for decades, but this is the first time the school districts needed a minimum amount of instructional time, and verify that it was happening.

In May, first lady Casey DeSantis announced a mental health and substance abuse campaign called Hope for Healing Florida, which is supposed to produce and distribute resource materials in partnership with private entities.

A website for Hope For Healing Florida is up, with hotline numbers, a treatment locator and information about apps. 

Resource guides and more in-depth information on behavioral health are listed under "coming soon."

Flagler County Schools says it's awaiting "guidance from the Florida Department of Education as to how and when this new mental health curriculum should be implemented." Meanwhile, the district tells us it's already taken steps to promote mental health awareness, including adding counselors and psychologists on campuses and rolling out mental health programs from the Sandy Hook Promise.

Lake County Schools says it's also awaiting further guidance and is working up an implementation plan, which it says is due to the state by August 1.

Volusia County Schools "has developed a comprehensive plan to address the mental health, social-emotional and behavioral needs of our students. This plan was approved by our School Board and will be submitted to the State of Florida for review," the district tells us. It said secondary students will participate in the Say Something program in the fall.

Osceola County Schools says its working with the National Association Mental Illness for its program, Ending the Silence, for high school. It also has implemented a Youth Mental Health Aid pilot program. It has a student services team working with a leadership team to develop a mental health plan "that would work best for our schools and our students."

The Marion County school district says it has already incorporated mental health lessons in its curriculum and has hired counselors and psychologists using state funds. "We’re well ahead of many districts when it comes to better gauging the mental health of our students," a spokesman tells us.