Gov. Wolf Launches ‘Reach Out PA,’ Mental Health Initiative

PITTSBURGH (CBS) — A sweeping effort to improve mental health services and change public perceptions has been announced by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. Combating stigma is a big part of the plan.

Wolf says the campaign is similar to what the state did in response to the opioid crisis.

“I know I needed help, but the help I needed was stigmatized,” James Stafford said.

Stafford, who once struggled with mental health issues, is now a counselor.

He joined Wolf for the announcement of “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters.”

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“We’re at the start of a new decade. It’s time to start fresh,” Wolf said.

The new initiative aims to remove the stigma linked to mental health, encourage people to get help and make resources more available and affordable.

“We’ve seen many tragedies that have been tied to mental health issues,” Wolf said.

Wolf referred to one study that found one million adult Pennsylvanians struggled with serious psychological distress at least once in 2015. A total of 27% of them had an unmet need for mental health care, and 42% couldn’t afford it

“We start with the idea that silence breeds shame. I want every Pennsylvanian to feel comfortable reaching out to someone if they’re struggling,” Wolf said.

Experts say, with depression and suicide on the rise, people aren’t getting the help they need.

Tanisha Bowman is a palliative care social worker.

“My own diagnosis of depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and ADHD, which I treat through medication and therapy, and the support of friends, family, medical professionals,” Bowman said. “Unfortunately, I often find myself supporting patients that are not as fortunate as I am.”

Wolf said it’s too early in the process to know what kind of additional funding might be needed for the initiative, but 420 workers at the Department of Labor have received suicide prevention training.

There is also a big emphasis to get qualified social workers in school.