As the 2022 school year concludes, more than 77,000 Florida middle school and high school students have now participated in a mental health education program presented by HCA Florida Healthcare and EVERFI. This timely and critical digital curriculum aims at helping young people understand mental health disorders while removing the stigma associated with these conditions.
In 2020, the Florida State Board of Education passed a rule requiring public schools to provide students in grades 6-12 with at least five hours of mental health instruction every year. In response, HCA Florida Healthcare and EVERFI moved swiftly to implement a digital Mental Wellness Basics program to help preadolescents and teens understand mental health disorders, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encourage action.
Since that time, more than 77,000 students in 157 Florida public schools have completed the interactive digital curriculum.
“It’s imperative that we reach young people with a message that mental health is just as important as physical health, particularly as we reset our lives after COVID-19,” says Melissa Arkin, regional vice president of behavioral health with HCA Florida Healthcare. “We must destigmatize mental illness, and that starts when kids are most vulnerable and, unfortunately, least likely to seek help.”
The online instruction, divided into four interactive digital modules, is available to schools and students at no cost through HCA Florida Healthcare’s strategic partnership with the digital education provider EVERFI.
- Lesson one, Mental Health Basics, examines the impact of stress, the brain and environments on mental health.
- In lesson two, Understanding Mental Disorders, students are introduced to common mental health disorders and the accompanying symptoms.
- Lesson three, Healthy Coping Skills, helps equip students with strategies to cope with emotions, thoughts and behaviors that may impact one’s mental wellness.
- In lesson four, Getting Help, students learn to identify when either a peer or themselves need assistance with their mental health, how to get help, and what to expect when seeking treatment.
While the digital curriculum was designed to be implemented individually, teachers are provided offline resources for classroom and small group discussions to deepen the learning experience.
In its third year of implementation, EVERFI developed the curriculum in collaboration with a team of counselors, psychiatrists and behavioral and public health professionals to equip students with the critical skills necessary to build and maintain their mental well-being. It also provides students with accurate information about mental health disorders, sharing peer experiences with mental illness and messaging that treatment is effective and available.
The announcement comes as Florida joins the rest of the nation in recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month, a national movement to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six U.S. youth ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder every year. Although half of all lifetime mental illness cases begin by age 14, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is ten years.
“We believe supporting mental health and reducing the stigma around discussing it begins in the classroom, and we whole-heartedly support the Board of Education’s requirement to dedicate class time to this critical topic,” says Jon Chapman, president and co-founder of EVERFI, an international technology company that seeks to drive social change through education. “Our strategic partnership with HCA Florida Healthcare has been vital to bringing this education to students across Florida.”