Your (Unofficial) Guide to State-Sponsored Therapy in Florida
There’s a way to get affordable mental health care that you might not know about. That’s Florida’s mental health system.
If you qualify, you can get mental health care at a community mental health program in Florida for a small co-pay or a low sliding-scale fee. But even if you don’t qualify for services at a state-funded program, Florida’s system can still give you information, local referrals to affordable providers, and other essential help for free.
If you’re in a hurry, you can read our quick start guide below to get the most important information about the Florida mental health system.
To learn more about public mental health services in Florida, keep reading. We’ve done the research to uncover essential facts about who’s eligible, what services you can get, when to go, where to call, and how it works so you can decide if Florida’s mental health system might be right for you.
Who Is Eligible?
You should consider looking into a state-funded Florida mental health program if you (or a loved one) are having a mental health crisis, have a severe mental health condition, are disabled because of your mental health, have Medicaid, or have a limited income.
Everyone in Florida can use the state-funded mental health emergency response system. If you or someone you love is in crisis, you can call a state or local crisis line to get the help you need, quickly.
Use the State System When You're in Crisis
Public mental health services are usually the best option if you’re having a mental health crisis and need help right away.
State mental health programs are required to provide mental health crisis response services and are one of the fastest ways to get care when you’re having a mental health emergency.
The people who answer crisis lines can provide caring attention and support as they help you determine the best response to a crisis, whether it’s inpatient treatment or an appointment with a counselor.
Even if you’re not in crisis, you can call your local mental health hotline for information about affordable mental health services in your area. When you call, you can find out whether you might qualify for state-funded mental health services, schedule an assessment, or get free information about other affordable local providers.
Other parts of the system have stricter eligibility requirements. You need to have a serious mental health condition (a diagnosable condition that affects your daily functioning) to qualify for publicly-funded outpatient mental health care in Florida.
However, more people have a qualifying condition than realize it. Don’t assume you’re not eligible!
Fast Facts About Eligibility in Florida
Consider reaching out to a state-funded Florida mental health program if you:
- Are having a mental health emergency
- Have Medicaid or don’t have insurance
- Need to get information about affordable providers in your area
- Have a serious mental health condition like major depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia that affects your ability to function
- Are or have been involved with the criminal justice system because of a mental illness or while experiencing a mental illness
- Need specialty mental health care like day treatment, case management, wrap-around care, or home-based services
Eligibility criteria depend on the service you want and can vary from program to program, so it’s worth calling the program you’re interested in to confirm what their policies are. To find contact information for programs serving your area, scroll to the directory below.
One of the most important requirements you need to meet to get services at a publicly-funded mental health program in Florida is to be a resident of the region it serves.
You also need to have a serious mental health condition that affects your ability to function. Florida’s mental health system focuses on serving people who have a hard time functioning independently in the community and who are at risk of hospitalization.
Florida’s Mental Health Program Office, a division of the Florida Department of Children and Families, explains its eligibility criteria in detail on the “Who We Serve” section of its “How We Work” webpage.
In short, you’re eligible if you’re in crisis, have a documented long-term psychiatric disability, or are involved with the criminal justice system due to a mental illness.
You can find a detailed description of eligibility requirements for Florida mental health services in the information box below.
State Eligibility Criteria for Mental Health Care in Florida
According to the “Who We Serve” section on the “How We Work” page for Florida’s Mental Health Program Office in the Department of Children and Families (DCF), you’re eligible for state-funded mental health services in Florida if you:
- Are experiencing a men...
According to the “Who We Serve” section on the “How We Work” page for Florida’s Mental Health Program Office in the Department of Children and Families (DCF), you’re eligible for state-funded mental health services in Florida if you:
- Are experiencing a mental health crisis
- Have a serious mental illness that is disabling or potentially disabling
- Are otherwise unable to access mental health care due to your diagnosis or finances
- Have a serious mental illness and are involved with the criminal justice system in Florida
DCF defines “adults in mental health crisis” as “people who are 18 or older who:
- Meet criteria under the Baker Act for admission to a mental health receiving facility; or
- Show evidence of a recent stressful event and significant problems coping with that event.”
DCF defines “adults with severe psychiatric disabilities” as “people who are 18 or older who have a diagnosis or diagnostic impression of a mental disorder [according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM] and meet any of the following criteria:
- Receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or Disabled Veteran Income or another type of disability income due to a psychiatric disability; or
- Receives Social Security Income (SSI) for reasons other than a psychiatric disability and has a serious and persistent mental illness; or
- Has documented evidence of a long term psychiatric disability, and does not need, is unable to apply or refuses to apply for disability benefits; or
- Does not receive disability income due to a psychiatric disability but has applied for disability income that is in process due to psychiatric disability or has received such income in the past five (5) years.”
DCF defines “adults with a serious mental illness and forensic (court) involvement” as “people who are over 18 who meet any of the following criteria:
- Have an ‘incompetent to proceed (ITP)’ court order due to mental illness; or
- Have a ‘not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI)’ court order for evaluation of competency or sanity; or
- Are on conditional release due to a mental illness.”
DCF does not specifically define “cannot otherwise access mental health care,” but this likely includes people who have limited incomes and lack insurance or qualify for Medicaid.
You can call your local program or information line to ask if your income or situation qualifies you for state-funded mental health care.
While Florida has somewhat strict criteria for state-funded mental health services, you may still be able to get mental health care from a publicly-funded provider even if you don’t meet those criteria.
Florida does not directly run its own state mental health programs. Instead, it contracts with private programs to provide state-funded mental health services. Programs that agree to participate have to serve clients who meet state criteria, but they may also choose to serve clients who don’t.
Many programs in the public system started out as private non-profits with less restrictive admissions policies and continue to serve people with a wide range of mental health needs.
So, even if you’re not eligible for state funding, you may still be able to get affordable services from a publicly-funded provider if they choose to serve people outside of state-designated eligibility groups. Many of them accept public and private insurance plans and offer sliding-scale rates if you don’t have an insurance plan they accept.
Check with Your Local Program for Accurate Eligibility Information
One of the most important things to know about the Florida public mental health system is that what services are available and who’s eligible vary from program to program.
The programs that participate in the Florida mental health system aren’t limited to accepting clients who meet state eligibility criteria. It’s up to each program to decide whether they also admit clients who don’t qualify for state funding by letting them pay a sliding-scale fee or use insurance.
Some programs admit a wider range of clients than the groups outlined in DCF policy, while some limit their services even further to very specific populations. It depends on the program, what their focus is, and how their funding and staffing levels are at the time.
You can find out whether a program might be right for you by looking up their contact information in the directory below and calling them or exploring their website.
Most, but not all state-funded programs in Florida have financial eligibility requirements. Most accept Medicaid and offer sliding-scale fees if you don’t have (or can’t use) insurance and have limited funds. Some accept private insurance and offer you the option to pay in full if you don’t qualify for a payment reduction.
If you don’t qualify for state financial assistance, going to a publicly-funded provider in Florida is the same as going to any other provider: you’ll either pay for services with your insurance or pay out of pocket. So, you’ll find the most affordable option by looking for providers who accept your insurance or who offer good sliding-scale discounts.
Not all publicly-funded programs have better rates than other community counseling providers. So, it’s important to compare the rates of publicly-funded programs, private non-profits, and integrated clinics if you don’t qualify for state financial assistance. Your best option will depend on what each program charges and where you can find the therapist or service that’s the best match for you.
While many private providers offer outpatient mental health services like therapy and medication, not all of them offer specialty and intensive services like case management or psychosocial rehabilitation. So, you’ll need to look for specialty providers who do. Many are part of the public mental health system.
Check Out the State System If You Need Specialized Services
Publicly-funded mental health programs in Florida are great places to find specialized and intensive mental health services like case management and day treatment that can be hard to find anywhere else. These specialty programs can give you extra help when you’re dealing with severe symptoms.
You can find the numbers for state-funded mental health programs in Florida in the directory below. We encourage you to call even if you think you might not be eligible.
Even if you’re not eligible, or if the program doesn’t offer the service you want, they can probably still help you. The people who work in these programs are knowledgeable about local resources and will often give you free information or even referrals to other affordable providers nearby, including local non-profits that provide free or low-cost counseling.
Where Do You Call to Get Started?
The best way to learn more about state-funded mental health services in Florida is to call a local mental health program or 2-1-1 mental health crisis and information hotline.
Florida’s 2-1-1 hotlines are managed by 11 different regional programs. You can call 2-1-1 from anywhere in Florida to connect to the hotline closest to you. The 11 regional organizations are:
- 211 Northwest Florida
- 211 Big Bend
- 211 Northeast Florida
- 211 Brevard
- 211 North Central Florida
- 211 Heart of Florida
- 211 Tampa Bay
- Crisis Center of Tampa Bay
- 211 Palm Beach and Treasure Coast
- 211 of Glades, Lee, and Hendry
- 211 Suncoast Cares
- 211 Broward
- 211 Miami
You can find which programs serve your county or city by scrolling to the directory in the next section.
For general mental health help or information, you can also call one of the statewide information, crisis, or support lines listed directly below.
Important Numbers in Florida
The statewide Florida mental health crisis hotline is 988.
The Crisis Text Line for the state of Florida is 741741.
To get help connecting with mental health programs and other resources in your area, you can call Florida 2-1-1 or visit one of their websites. In Florida, 2-1-1 also serves as a mental health crisis line.
Public mental health services in Florida are managed on the state level by the Florida Department of Children and Families. For general information about Florida’s system, you can contact them at (850) 487-1111.
However, you’ll probably get the best results by calling your local program or 2-1-1 hotline directly. You can find the listings for your local programs and hotlines in the directory below.
Regional Program Directory
There are seven regional organizations in Florida called “managing entities” that work with DCF to coordinate local mental health services and decide which programs are part of the public system.
These managing entities, as well as the 11 regional programs that oversee the regional 2-1-1 mental health crisis and information hotlines, serve as important points of contact when you’re trying to find out where to go to find affordable mental health services in your region.
Each region also has at least one mental health program that operates its own crisis line. You can find contact information for your region’s managing entity, 2-1-1 provider, and local mental health programs in the directory below.
(Note that no matter who your managing entity and 2-1-1 provider might be, calling 2-1-1 from anywhere in Florida will connect you with local mental health crisis and information services.)
It’s important to note that some local crisis lines are staffed 24 hours a day, while others have limited hours.
If you need information after hours or aren’t sure whether you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, it’s okay to call a regional 211 crisis line or the statewide 988 crisis line for help. The staff who answer are trained to quickly figure out what you need and can tell you what steps you need to take to connect with the right services.
You can also go to DCF’s online search page for mental health programs or your managing entity’s website (listed above) for an updated list of publicly-funded mental health providers in your region.
Also Consider: Federally Qualified Health Centers
Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are another great way to get affordable publicly-funded mental health services in Florida.
These federally-funded programs provide cutting-edge care in places where good primary healthcare was once hard to find. Most provide integrated care so you can get primary medical and mental health services at the same location.
Each FQHC accepts Medicaid and Medicare and offers low sliding-scale fees if you don’t have insurance. Their eligibility requirements are less strict than the requirements for the rest of the Florida state mental health system. You can search for FQHCs near you by using the online search tool on the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration website.
The state mental health system is complicated and can be confusing to navigate. If you’re having any issues, we’re here to help. Here are some of our solutions to common problems you might experience.
If you’ve run into a problem that we haven’t addressed, don’t give up. Call someone at the program (or a local mental health hotline) and tell them what’s going on.
You’re much more likely to get the help you need when you advocate for yourself and are persistent. Tell the person you talk to what you need or what problem you’re having.
If they don’t help the first time, call them back and tell them. If you keep calling and keep calm and focused, you should eventually get through to someone who can help you.
Deep Dive: How Does the System Work?
To understand Florida’s mental health system, it helps to understand how it started and how it’s changed since then.
Public mental health services have been around for a surprisingly long time. But for over a hundred years in America, the only way to get them was in a psychiatric hospital.
In the 1960s, Americans started thinking differently about mental health care. Conditions in psychiatric hospitals were getting worse and new medications made it possible to provide mental health treatment on an outpatient basis.
In response, new laws were passed that required state and local governments to establish community mental health programs as alternatives to institutionalization for people with serious mental illness. The most important was the Community Mental Health Act, which President John F. Kennedy signed into law in 1963.
For More Information
To learn more about what the public mental health system was like in the early days—and how psychiatric inpatient care has evolved since then—you can read our article “Do Insane Asylums Still Exist? The Surprising Past and Present.”
To learn more about what inpatient mental health treatment is like now, and the differences between how it works in general hospitals and specialized psychiatric facilities, you can read our article “How Inpatient Mental Health Treatment Works.”
Many state mental health programs trace their origins back to the 1960s when these important changes started to happen. Florida is no exception.
After Congress passed the Community Mental Health Act in 1963, the Florida legislature passed its own Community Mental Health Act in 1970, creating the administrative and financial basis to establish community mental health centers across the state.
In 1971, the state legislature passed the Florida Mental Health Act, also known as the Baker Act, which was one of the first laws to clarify when and how a person could be committed to inpatient treatment involuntarily.
Despite its visionary legislation, Florida struggled to organize and maintain its mental health system over the following decades and started lagging behind other states in access to mental health care.
In a 2007 report, the Florida Supreme Court wrote that Florida “never established a comprehensive network of community mental health services,” resulting “in a fragmented continuum of care… and disparities in access to care.”
What Is the Structure of the Florida Mental Heath System?
Florida’s public mental health system is governed regionally. The state agency for behavioral health programs in Florida, the Department of Children and Families (DCF), oversees seven organizations that administer and plan mental health programs in the regions they cover.
Each of the seven regional organizations makes independent decisions about its mental health system. These seven “managing entities” decide which mental health programs in their region participate in the public system and receive DCF funds. They also coordinate service delivery and hold mental health agencies accountable for the kind and quality of services they deliver.
The result of this decentralized system is that DCF-funded programs are not uniform in their distribution, the services they provide, or their eligibility requirements. As Florida’s system has been completely privatized, all of these are independent programs who may choose to serve people who aren’t eligible for state-funded services. However, programs that are funded by DCF must serve clients who meet eligibility requirements for state services.
Over the years, limited funding for the Florida mental health system—and the resulting lack of access to mental health care—has put pressure on jails and local emergency departments to respond to people who are having mental health crises.
The Florida Supreme Court’s 2007 mental health report noted that jails have become “the asylums of the new millennium” as an increasing number of people with mental illness end up being treated inside of jails instead of hospitals or community programs.
The December 2020 report of the Florida Statewide Grand Jury reaffirmed these conclusions, stating that the Florida system is composed of a “patchwork of interlocking, often conflicting sources of care.” A 2021 report said the Florida system continued to suffer from “enormous gaps in treatment.”
Fortunately, Florida may finally be reversing these trends. In July 2023, the Florida legislature approved a historically significant mental health budget increase of $2.5 billion. That included the first increase in Medicaid rates for behavioral health in 20 years as well as increased funding for community mental health programs and crisis response services.
The Continuum of Care in the Florida Mental Health System
Many publicly-funded Florida mental health programs offer therapy, medication, and other basic outpatient services. However, their focus is usually on specialty and intensive services.
The public mental health system primarily serves as a safety net to help people who are at risk of hospitalization regain or maintain their psychiatric stability while living at home.
Services offered in the Florida mental health system that can help people do that include:
- Case management
- Crisis intervention
- Crisis stabilization
- Inpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Therapy and medication
- Community-based support services
- Day treatment and partial hospitalization
- Supportive housing and employment
- Clubhouse and peer support services
- Assertive community treatment
- Psychosocial rehabilitation
Not all publicly-funded programs offer all of these services, though all of these services can usually be found within any of Florida’s seven mental health regions. According to DCF, “the kinds and amounts of publicly funded mental health services available in an area are limited by the amount of funding available in that area.”
Public mental health services in Florida are overseen on the state level by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
However, each region’s managing entity decides how its program works, including how to distribute state mental health funds received from DCF and which programs are part of the state-funded system.
You can learn more about how mental health services work in your region by calling a regional or local mental health hotline. They know how the system works and will help you get where you need to go.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 39 percent of people in Florida who have mental health conditions get treatment for them. Many of them qualify for public mental health services but don’t know about them.
You can make a difference by reaching out and connecting with local mental health resources to get the care you need. If you’re not sure whether you qualify for Florida state mental health services, call a state or local crisis or information line. You may find out you can get mental health services through a publicly-funded program or that there’s another affordable option nearby.
The most important thing is to get started—the help you need may be only a call or click away.