I’ve been waiting all month, trying to decide what I want to say or share about the important role we Social Workers play in our world, especially given the plethora of behaviors, laws, and policies that are occurring that are clearly in direct opposition to Social Work values and ethics, especially in Florida. In my blog posts I usually share uplifting and inspirational helpful videos and posts about mindfulness or other helpful mental health related topics and am struggling this year. I read the news every day and in this legislative season am seeing laws being passed that are portrayed as protecting rights, yet only benefit a small but vocal group of people and instead, severely restrict rights of the majority opinion. Targeted hate crimes against marginalized people AND THOSE WHO HELP THEM have increased. Suicide rates continue to climb, especially in youth who have limited access to mental health care. Then I read the the Tampa Bay Times article on 3/21/23 reporting on a “scathing” 2021 state commissioned report on mental health and substance abuse care that is due to be published in September but the results are in. (https://www.tampabay.com/news/health/2023/03/21/mental-health-florida-reforms-report-flagged-problems-parkland/) I knew that’s what I needed to write about. Let me summarize the main points in this article:

The Tampa Bay Times noted that in the Jeb Bush era, back in 2001 the state also commissioned a similar report on mental health care and substance abuse and guess what?? The results from that report, and the current report 20 years later are practically identical in highlighting the “broken system of care”! Both reports note “complex, fragmented, uncoordinated and often ineffective” systems of care. In addition, “jails and prisons were Florida’s largest mental hospitals”. The article goes on to stat that hardly any of the recommendations in the 2021 report were implemented. Then, in 2020, The Parkland school shooting nightmare happened and a grand jury investigating school safety issues called Florida’s mental health care system “a mess”. That’s when the recommendation to commission another full report was made, leading to this current report. Nearly 3 million Florida adults have a mental illness, according to Mental Health America, a national advocacy group just outside of Washington, DC. That is 17 % of the state’s population. It is estimated there are another 225,000 youth who have experienced mental health problems and the recent report out by the CDC, the Youth Risk Behavioral Survey which is done every 2 years, documents the increase in suicide, and mental health problems in our youth. The final statistic that blew my mind is that in 2020 Florida still continues to be ranked LAST among states for it’s per capita mental health care and substance abuse funding and the Miami Dade County jail system was deemed the “largest psychiatric institution in the state”. Mental Health America ranked Florida 46th in the US for access to care. (I was proud to see that my home state, Vermont was #1) In this current legislative season as of March 13th, the Times could only find ONE House bill and a matching senate bill based on the 35 page report. This is a “proposal to study Medicaid expansion for some youth adults ages 26 and under”.

So….what to do? This is a call to action to all Social Workers and any other humans who care about our state and our world and our most vulnerable populations. Let’s BREAK THOSE BARRIERS! Here are a few things I thought of, there are so many more. I would love to hear from you!

  1. Join NASW or your professional association. These organizations all have legislative lobbying, watch and advocacy arms. But they need your involvement. Go to meetings, Get involved in your professional associations.
  2. Get active in local and statewide political committees. Volunteer to get involved with the election process at any level. This year, my husband and I signed up to work the polls where we saw first hand how sound the election system is in our county. There are all kinds of levels of commitment you can do; Poll working is actually a paid position, there are other volunteer positions like being a Poll Watcher, or voter registration, etc. IF all the people who are against many of these restrictive bills voted, we would be in a very different situation today.
  3. You can sign up for legislative bill watching sites where you will be sent updates on whatever bills you are interested in. The one’s I use include a US Congressional Bill Tracking Website, https://www.govtrack.us/, and a Florida senate bill tracking website, https://www.flsenate.gov/Tracker.
  4. Educate yourself and TALK TO PEOPLE! Speak up! Especially to young people. They are our future and it really is theirs and they need to understand what is at stake and what they can do. Educate them using your best validation and dialectical skills.

I thank you for indulging my lengthy post here and lets all work towards a healthy bright future.

March is Social Work Month and the Theme is…..