Father's plea to lawmakers over potential mental health cuts

Janny Rodriguez reports. 3/15/017

Half of all Floridians will experience mental illness in their life time. Still, Florida lags behind the nation’s top states in mental health funding.

Last year, the legislature pushed through $58 million in additional funding, but this year lawmakers are considering cuts that could hurt folks here on the First Coast.

"3:15 a.m., we got a phone call saying - desperate - 'I’m lost, I’m bleeding from my eyes ears and nose,' which he wasn’t. 'All the trucks are throwing boxes off trying to kill me and trying to run me off the road' and he was at rest stop," said Richard Marquis from St. Augustine.

He was describing one of the worst days of his life. The day his son had his first mental breakdown his senior year of college.

"He grew up in a nuclear family, we’ve been married 38 years both professionals and we weren’t ready for this," said Marquis.

But he told First Coast News he is ready to fight for his son. Last week, he pleaded to lawmakers in Tallahassee not to further cut mental health programs.

"Think about what you’re doing and try to walk in our shoes and realize what they’re doing to the people it’s just barbaric," he said.

Florida ranks 49th in the nation for mental health funding. The average state spends about $127 per person, while Florida only spends $37 per person.

"We don’t have the ongoing care, the follow up, the care coordination, the services that they need and so what’s happening is that people are committing crime, misdemeanor crimes - are ending up in our criminal justice system," said Denise Marzullo, President and CEO of the Mental Health America of Northeast Florida. "They rotate in and out of the crisis stabilization units which are the most costly level of care."

She says she’s joining in on the fight to make mental health a priority in the 2017 legislative session.

"Twelve people a day in Florida are dying from suicides and that’s definitely the result of untreated mental illness," said Marzullo.

Marquis, as a father, wants more people to openly talk about the issue of mental illness. "Let’s talk about this in the open, the heck with the stigma it’s not right," he said.

He insists more needs to be done to help people like his son before it’s too late. "We will be there for our son for the rest of our lives but that’s not the problem, the real problem and what other families have expressed is a concern, is who’s going to be there for our children after we’ve passed on," he said. "I’m 70, I don’t know how much time I have left. But I don’t know what’s going to happen to him and that is my biggest fear."

"The president's budget lays out spending recommendations, but it's up to Congress to set funding priorities and actually allocate public funds," said Florida Senator Marco Rubio. "I look forward to reviewing the President's budget when it's revealed on Thursday."

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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