Pennsylvanians Can Access Life-Saving Services During the Holiday Season

Jen SmithJen Smith - Secretary, Dept. of Drug and Alcohol Programs (Credit: Commonwealth Media Services)

PENNSYLVANIA — Members of the Wolf Administration are reminding Pennsylvanians of available resources during the holiday season for individuals and families affected by mental health and substance use disorders (SUD).

The departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), Health (DOH), Human Services (DHS), Aging (PDA), and Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) joined to reinforce the Wolf Administration’s commitment to providing trauma-informed mental health and substance use disorder services and resources that are available year-round but often increasingly needed during the holiday season.

“This is a joyous time of year, but the holidays can also be difficult for many Pennsylvanians for many different reasons. During this holiday season, it is important to remind folks who are struggling with grief, isolation, or battling a substance use disorder that no one is ever alone; there are always resources available to help,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “I urge all Pennsylvanians to offer their support to a friend or loved one who may need the courage to seek the help and resources they need and deserve.”

Pennsylvania’s Mental Health and SUD Resource guides offer information related to mental health screenings, finding a mental health or SUD treatment professional, resources for housing insecurity, help with trauma due to racism, and assistance with contacting your county assistance offices and county drug and alcohol offices, and applying for benefits.

Mental Health

This year saw the launch of the new, shortened number – 988 – for the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 988 serves as a direct link for suicide prevention and mental health crisis support. Anyone can call, text, or chat with 988 and will be directly connected to trained, compassionate mental health crisis response counselors, the same that were accessible through the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

988 call centers provide support for individuals considering suicide, self-harm, or any behavioral or mental health need for themselves as well as people looking for help for a loved one experiencing a mental health crisis. While the majority of calls are triaged and de-escalated without deploying in-person services, in communities where mobile crisis mental health teams are available, a 988 counselor can dispatch the team to provide on-site support and interventions. They are also able to call out police or other emergency services if there is an immediate risk to the life or safety of an individual. Callers to 988 can also connect with the Veterans Crisis Line or assistance in Spanish.

The 988 lifeline’s services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost to the caller. Additional free resources are available to assist Pennsylvanians with mental health needs and connect to longer-term support in their community.

“The holidays can be a joyous time as we gather with our loved ones to celebrate the season, but we also understand that the responsibilities and expectations of the season can cause stress and lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. If you are going through hard times, please know that you are not alone and it is okay to reach out for help if you need an extra hand,” said DHS Executive Deputy Secretary Andrew Barnes. “DHS is here to help no matter the time of year – we administer and oversee programs and resources that provide support. We can all do our part during this season to help make the holidays better and brighter for our families, friends, and fellow Pennsylvanians. If you need help, please reach out, and if you can provide help, please do so.”

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Substance Use Disorder

Individuals seeking substance use treatment or recovery resources for themselves or a loved one can call the toll-free PA Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This helpline is confidential, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and staffed by trained professionals who will connect callers to resources in their community. Callers can also be connected with funding if they need help paying for treatment. ATLAS is also available for Pennsylvanians and their loved ones to search for and compare SUD treatment facilities using criteria such as location, services offered, and insurance accepted so they can find the best treatment for their unique needs.

“The Get Help Not hotline is available every day, including Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Eve and Day,” said Smith. “Please don’t hesitate to reach out and use this helpline. Whether you are in recovery, seeking treatment for the first time, or need information on how you can help or support a loved one’s journey, there is hope in the help that is available through the hotline and ATLAS to help you navigate through available resources during the holiday season and beyond.”

Naloxone

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug (i.e. prescription pain medication or heroin). When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing. Pennsylvanians can obtain naloxone at their local pharmacy by using Physician General, Denise Johnson’s standing order. People can also get naloxone mailed to their home when completing a short training through a partnership with NEXT Distro.

“The administration continues to help individuals suffering from substance use disorder, because every life is worth saving,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “One of our initiatives has been increasing access to four types of naloxone through the updated standing order, allowing people to get naloxone without a prescription at your local pharmacy or through the mail. With the holiday season upon us, I encourage you to carry this tool, because you never know when you will have the opportunity to save a life.”

Resources for Older Adults

The PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Centers, also known as the PA Link, assists older adults and individuals with disabilities by providing information and connecting them to supports including assistive technology to access telehealth services, check-in calls and options to help reduce social isolation. Any older adult needing support can contact the PA Link Call Center by phone at 1-800-753-8827 or online at www.carelink.pa.gov.

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In addition, Pennsylvania’s 52 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), covering the commonwealth’s 67 counties, provide virtual and in-person activities, including health and wellness programs. Older adults can locate their local area agency on aging here.

“The holiday season comes with expectations of joy and happiness, but unfortunately not everyone experiences that this time of year. Older adults may have feelings of loneliness, depression, or isolation particularly if they experienced the loss of a loved one,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “If any older adult is struggling emotionally or mentally, we want them to know they are not alone, and that the Department of Aging and AAAs have resources to support them. These resources range from engaging with a caring voice on the other end of a phone call to gathering safely, either in-person or virtually, with like-minded individuals for socializing and participating in activities. I encourage any older adult who may need support to please reach out to us.”

DHS and PDA also want grandparents raising grandchildren as well as other family members such as, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who find themselves caring for children who lost parents or whose parents are not able to be their primary caregiver to know that help is available via the KinConnector helpline. The helpline is staffed by Kinship Navigators – compassionate, knowledgeable social service professionals prepared to help families locate, understand, and access resources that may be able to help them during the holiday season. It can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111) or online at kinconnector.org.

Resources for Veterans

The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs works to identify and serve veterans in need through PA VETConnect, an innovative program that connects service members, veterans and their families to the best possible resources for assistance, anywhere in the commonwealth. A team of DMVA field staff networks throughout all 67 Pennsylvania counties and are well-versed in the substance abuse and mental health resources available for veterans to get the help they need now. Since PA VETConnect launched in 2020, DMVA has made more than 16,500 connections with various government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community leaders to enhance network capabilities. There are currently more than 1,900 vetted resources in the database.

In partnership with Veteran & First Responder Health, the DMVA has supported veterans suffering from opioid use disorders by providing services through in-person and telehealth methodologies. Some of these services include Medicated Assisted Treatment; Intensive Outpatient Program; Outpatient; and Case Management.

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Service members, veterans and their families who find themselves in crisis can access free, confidential support 24/7 by calling the new, easy to remember Veterans Crisis Line at 988, then Press 1.

“It is important to continue having a conversation about substance use disorder and mental health, not only during the holiday season, but all year round,” said Rick Hamp, special assistant to the deputy adjutant general for Veteran Affairs. “This is particularly important when it comes to active service members, veterans and their families. They face social challenges outside of the norm due to deployments, separation from loved ones and even war. Programs like the ones we are talking about today go a long way in helping everyone who ever wore a uniform, and their families know that help is available and somebody cares.”

Resources for People with Intellectual Disabilities & Autism

DHS’ Office of Developmental Programs has resources developed by self-advocates to provide helpful tips and suggestions for people with intellectual disabilities & autism to manage stress during the holidays. These tips include:

  • Being aware of your sensory issues and trying your best to explain them to other people,
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member about expectations for the gathering,
  • Using coping skills and having an exit plan if you need to excuse yourself,
  • Making sure you have a safe, comfortable place when you come home to decompress, and
  • Understanding self-care and knowing what works best for you in holiday situations.

Additional information and resources can be found at www.myodp.org or www.paautism.org.

Public Assistance Programs

DHS encourages Pennsylvanians struggling to meet basic needs to apply for programs that can help them meet essential needs through the winter months. Programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), cash assistance, Medical Assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and other programs can be applied for at any time at www.compass.state.pa.us. For more information on assistance programs available to help Pennsylvanians, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

For more information on mental health and SUD treatment options in Pennsylvania, county-based resources, and the Wolf Administration’s efforts to connect individuals with mental and emotional support and to local resources, visit pa.gov/mental-health.

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