Wolf announces mental health campaign

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 1/8/20

HARRISBURG, PA — Gov. Tom Wolf recently launched a campaign called “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters,” a multi-agency effort to expand mental health resources and fight …

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Wolf announces mental health campaign

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HARRISBURG, PA — Gov. Tom Wolf recently launched a campaign called “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters,” a multi-agency effort to expand mental health resources and fight stigmas. The campaign will incorporate different initiatives across several state agencies; some of the programs have yet to be made public.

The governor’s office referenced a 2017 study from the University of Southern California, which found that roughly 1 million Pennsylvanians suffered from psychological distress at least once in 2015. The study also found that 27 percent of those who needed mental health care did not receive it.

The Wayne County Commissioners, who just recently raised taxes for the 2020 budget, attributed the raise partially to the $1 million that it takes to maintain human services programs and retain employees. In 2012, the commonwealth cut its funding for human services by 10 percent and has not raised it since. Advocates have long been pushing for that to change.

Wolf’s plan did not directly address increasing funding for human services, and at a recent press conference, he declined to say whether he would support increasing funding or not. Instead, the governor’s office describes the human services dimension of the plan like this: “The Department of Human Services will take steps to incentivize the integration of physical and behavioral health services to remove barriers to coordinating care and treatment.”

Reach Out PA requires the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to pursue “mental health parity” regulations so that residents’ health insurance plans include access to mental health treatment. If a plan has parity, it treats mental health equally as it treats other health conditions. For example, if an insurance plan covers unlimited doctor visits for diabetes, then it must also cover unlimited visits for depression.

The campaign is also trying to combat the stigma associated with mental health by partnering with community-based organizations to hold roundtable discussions about mental health. Wolf hosted the first discussion on Friday, January 3 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

For PA youth, the commonwealth is looking to put more social workers in its schools, ensure that every school has a full-time counselor and implement a more trauma-informed approach to education, health care and the criminal justice system.

Wolf compared this “multi-pronged” effort to the state’s approach to fighting the opioid epidemic. “We’ve seen success with a multi-pronged attack against the opioid crisis. Reach Out PA will do the same with mental health,” he said.

It’s worth noting, however, that in 2019 Wolf’s administration got $56 million in grant funding, which went toward battling opioids.

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