Wolf Administration Highlights Behavioral Health Disparities Among Minority Populations and Available Resources

mental healthCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — On Friday, the departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and Human Services (DHS) joined officials from the Governor’s Office of Advocacy and Reform, the Governor’s Advisory Commissions on Latino Affairs, Asian Pacific American Affairs, and LGBTQ Affairs, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and community organizations to reinforce the Wolf Administration’s commitment to promoting trauma-informed and culturally competent mental health and substance use disorder services that meet the distinct needs of historically marginalized populations and highlight available resources.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear the systemic impact of racism and bigotry, and how resulting inequities can adversely affect the mental and physical health of individuals within historically marginalized groups – including racial and ethnic minorities and the LGTBQ community,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “I encourage anyone struggling with mental-health challenges to contact the Persevere PA Support and Referral Helpline at 1-855-284-2494. The helpline is staffed with professional caseworkers trained in trauma-informed and culturally competent care who can assess needs and provide appropriate referral to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations, including historically marginalized groups.”

While studies have shown that the pandemic exacerbated inequities, those inequities existed before COVID-19. DHS identified health equity as a major priority of its ongoing racial equity work in a report released earlier this year, and this includes a focus on mental health services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preliminary overdose data show a 16 percent increase in overdose deaths across Pennsylvania from 2019 to 2020. More than half of these deaths occurred in Philadelphia, where overdoses among Black individuals spiked by more than 50 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University of Pennsylvania researchers.

“The collision of the overdose epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic further brought to light health inequities for particular racial and ethnic populations across Pennsylvania,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “In our latest round of grant funding to Recovery Community Organizations, we included language specifically related to ensuring minority populations have access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services…. The Wolf Administration is committed to ensuring that no matter your race, ethnicity, or background— all Pennsylvanians should have equal access to life-saving resources.”

The PA Care Partnership builds and promotes equality and trust by including youth, caregivers, providers, and systems that serve children and young adults based on the individual community’s strengths and culture to modify how youth, families, government, and communities interact with each other. This is achieved through a system of care model that incorporates mental health promotion, prevention, early identification, and early intervention in addition to treatment to address the needs of all children, youth, and young adults.

“The past year and a half have challenged many of us during this time of COVID-19. As a result, individuals and families have felt secluded and uncertain of what the future holds. However, help is available as Pennsylvania has a vast array of services and supports, with dedicated staff, who are continually working to increase their trauma awareness and focus on the cultural needs of our children and families diverse needs,” said Mark Durgin, director of PA CARE Partnership. “To find services in your community, consider reaching out to your county’s mental health office.”

PA Care Partnership hosts a series of webinars focused on youth and young adults from birth to age 21 and their families, systems, and providers aligned with the System of Care values of being youth and family-driven, strength-based and individualized, trauma-informed, and culturally and linguistically competent. This month, the series includes several webinars on Minority Mental Health Month available online.

“I welcomed the opportunity to speak about mental health issues in communities of color and within marginalized groups in order to help shed light on the serious place we are in, in terms of the need for help and the current lack of resources and awareness,” said Andrea Fields, executive director of the PA Legislative Black Caucus. “We are at crisis proportions and we need to do everything we can in the legislature to get people the help they need, both through resources and legislation but also through educating people about the inequities within the healthcare and mental healthcare structure.”

“We have seen an increase of mental health concerns during the pandemic in the Hispanic/Latinx communities and, as a result, the Latinx communities run a higher risk because of the stress of facing discrimination while also trying to navigate through services with language barriers. Our goal is to continue to educate and bring awareness of social services to these minority communities and to aggressively address social determinants of health for our most vulnerable populations,” said Luz Colon, executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. “I applaud DHS and DDAP for coming together to address mental health issues in minority communities. We are committed to taking every action necessary to provide services for those that need it most.”

“Minority Mental Health Month is helping to focus attention on the problem, and we hope more people in our minority communities will not only become aware of the resources and services that are available to them, but also that members of our communities will understand that they are not alone, there are others facing the same challenges, and it is ok to look for help,” said Stephanie Sun, Executive Director of the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific Affairs. “I invite all of you to join us in helping your family, your friends and your neighbors. The mental health of one affects the many. We cannot do it alone, but together we can make a difference.”

Persevere PA Support and Referral Helpline

Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity can contact the Persevere PA Support & Referral Helpline toll-free, 24/7 at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600. Center for Community Resources (CCR) staff are trained to be accessible, culturally competent, and skilled at assisting people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, co-occurring disorders, other special needs, or someone just looking for a supportive, empathetic person to listen. Staff are trained in trauma-informed care to listen, assess needs, triage calls, and provide appropriate referral to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations. Since its launch in April 2020, the helpline has received nearly 25,000 calls.

Get Help Now Hotline

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 with interpretation services available in more than 200 languages. Callers can also be connected with funding if they need help paying for treatment. A live chat option is also available online or via text message at 717-216-0905 for those seeking help who may not be comfortable speaking to a helpline operator.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provide free and confidential emotional support, in English and Spanish, to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A localized text option is also available via the Crisis Text Line, offering free 24/7 support by texting “PA” to 741741. For assistance in Spanish, contact the Línea Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio at 1-888-628-9454.

Pennsylvania Mental Health Guide

This online guide contains information related to mental health screenings, finding a mental health professional, resources for housing insecurity, help with trauma due to racism, and assistance with contacting your county assistance offices and applying for benefits.

Public Assistance Programs

DHS encourages Pennsylvanians struggling to meet basic needs to apply for programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), cash assistance, Medical Assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and other programs, any time at www.compass.state.pa.us. For more information assistance programs available to help Pennsylvanians, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

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