Raising Awareness About Trauma and Mental Health

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – In Pennsylvania, May 25 is recognized as trauma and mental health awareness day. Today, state officials and experts with HEAL PA discussed the connection between trauma and mental health challenges facing so many Pennsylvanians.  

The mission of HEAL PA is to lead and support Pennsylvania in becoming trauma-informed and healing-centered by providing resources, advocacy and education. Speakers at today’s event explained the impact trauma has on mental health and why it’s important to talk about it. 

“Right now, far too many people are not thriving, and as a whole, our society is struggling,” said Jesse Kohler, the Executive Director at the Campaign for Trauma Informed Policy and Practice. 

“We’re realizing that the hardest part to talk about is the experience behind the mental health challenge,” said Commonwealth Child Advocate, Maryann McEvoy. 

McEvoy says improving mental health starts with addressing trauma. 

“We all have experienced some form of trauma in our lives, and trauma is different for every person,” said McEvoy. 

State officials say more dialogue and more funding are crucial. 

“We have to take care of our mental health, just as we would our physical health. When we do not address our mental health issues or the difficult emotions that come with that, we really don’t show up in the way we need to for our families, our friends, our coworkers, and most importantly, for ourselves,” said Jennifer Smith, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services within the Pa. Dept. of Human Services. 

Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget proposes $20 million to restore mental health funding to counties and community-based mental health services for residents 

“This is a seriously overdue investment in counties that will help those who might not otherwise be able to get mental health services,” said Smith. “We have to continue to do more to support the people and dedicated professionals at the heart of this work,” she added. 

Shapiro’s proposal also includes $500 million over the next five years for student mental health in schools. The funding would help raise the number of on-site counselors and professionals, which advocates say, is crucial. 

“Individual interactions change lives. Just establishing a relationship saves lives,” said Dr. Dana Milakovic, a trauma specialist for the state’s Department of Education. “Our most vulnerable students really need you to have those relationships and develop a safe place for them to be able to heal,” she added. 

Members of HEAL PA say regardless of what somebody may be going through, it’s important to know that they’re not alone. 

“Those experiences that they’re having, so many other people around you- who you don’t even know have those same experiences- can be there to empathize and to help you heal,” said McEvoy. 

“For too long, people didn’t talk about mental illness and mental health. This kept people away from the support and the sense of community that they deserve,” said Smith. “As people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and what they might be struggling with, we need to let them know that when they do ask for help, they can find the help that they need,” Smith added. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call or text the National Mental Health Crisis Line: 988.  

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