10th Annual Disability and Mental Health Summit Sheds Light on Areas for Improvement in Pennsylvania

State Rep. Dan MillerSubmitted Image

PITTSBURGH, PA — Experts from around the state, as well as self-advocates, offered insights and suggestions for improving behavioral health, mental health and the lives of people – particularly students – with disabilities or mental health needs at the 10th annual Disability & Mental Health Summit in Pittsburgh. Experts also placed a spotlight on areas where improvement is desperately needed in Pennsylvania.

House Majority Whip Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, hosted his 10th annual summit at Beth El Synagogue Thursday, and conducted two House Majority Policy Committee events, where Miller served as host.

“The Disability & Mental Health Summit is my favorite event of the year,” Miller said. “This is a one-of-a-kind gathering of self-advocates, legislators, policy experts and professionals to discuss the many challenging issues our commonwealth faces in these fields. Gathering such a wide array of people together lets them share not just policy ideas and what is or isn’t working in our communities, but their lived experiences as well, which are so critical to informing the discussions we must have to move Pennsylvania forward.”

Organized around two legislative panels, the morning session featured keynote speaker Dr. Dale Adair, chief psychiatric officer for the state Department of Human Services, who discussed the mental health landscape in Pennsylvania. Adair was followed by a panel on mental health with state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, which focused on the Behavioral Health Commission report on workforce needs and public safety and a discussion focused on mental health needs in schools.

The afternoon session featured keynote speakers Dr. Val Arkoosh, state Department of Human Services acting secretary, and Kristin Ahrens, deputy secretary of the Office of Developmental Programs, who discussed the changing landscape of disability services in Pennsylvania. That discussion was followed by a disability panel, including representatives of the Employment First Oversight Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, who discussed the commission’s recommendations to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities; followed by a discussion on supports for college students with disabilities.

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“I’m so grateful for Whip Miller’s annual work in hosting his Disability Summit,” House Majority Policy Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said. “Mental health affects every aspect of our lives, from emotions to social interactions and even our physical health. We also know one out of five people experiences mental illness, highlighting the reason why we need to continue to focus on improving mental health programs and services throughout the state.”

study in 2020, during the pandemic, revealed more than 40 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral condition.

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