Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf outlines effort to bolster mental health services

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Friday, January 3, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- Pennsylvania's governor announced a broad effort Thursday to improve mental health services and change public perceptions of mental illness.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf rolled out an initiative that includes more resources and a public outreach campaign, saying the approach was inspired by a similar strategy the state has deployed in response to the opioid crisis.

"For those struggling with their mental health, we have one message: your mental health matters and it's OK to reach out for help," Wolf said.

Wolf said the initiative may need additional funding but said it was probably too early in the information-gathering stage to be seeking money from the Legislature in next month's annual gubernatorial budget address.

"I want to end the silence because I want to end the stigma," Wolf said at a news conference. "The second step in this, of course, is ensuring that every Pennsylvanian has access to the care they need."

The campaign, "Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters," includes developing new state regulations on health insurance coverage, coordinating services for physical and behavioral health, analyzing pay and other factors for those who provide mental health services, and finding ways to get more social workers into schools.

Wolf will host a discussion about mental illness Friday at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, part of an attempt to reduce the stigma that can be a barrier to mental health treatment.

Other aspects of the program include training more state workers in suicide prevention, assessing Department of Military and Veterans Affairs resources regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and self-harm, and widening Aging Department information and training about dementia.

The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania welcomed Wolf's focus on mental health but said state financial support has lagged while the demand for services has grown.

Executive Director Lisa Schaefer said funding for services, beds and other efforts are her group's top priority, but urged the state to continue to give counties flexibility about how money is spent for mental health and drug and alcohol services for Medicaid recipients.