Growing mental health concerns deserve sustainable investment | Opinion

Clinton County Commissioner Jeffrey Snyder, president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, speaks during a news conference in the Pennsylvania Capitol on 1/14/2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

By Jeff Snyder

At the start of 2020, Pennsylvania counties announced that their top legislative priority for the year would be increased state funding for the mental health community base, a result of the growing mental health needs across all 67 counties. No one could have imagined at that time just how much more critical those community-based mental health services would become in just a few months.

The suffering of those in need has been multiplied as their previously normal routines have been uprooted by the coronavirus pandemic, shifting how they function and heightening stress. What we have faced in the last several months, and certainly will continue to face in the months to come, is pandemic-induced trauma.

These challenges are experienced differently by each person within their own personal circumstances and can result in increased need for support for medical needs and counseling to non-medical, but still life-sustaining needs, such as assistance for food, shelter and clothing.

Although it’s difficult to look beyond the current challenges, planning for the future must continue while keeping in mind how our current reality continues to shape that future.

Even before the pandemic, counties’ abilities to meet service needs had been compromised by stagnant funding over a decade, at the same time that mandates, service needs and demands continued to increase.

Community-based mental health services—such as community residential programs, family-based support, outpatient care and crisis intervention—are critical to the well-being of our constituents and communities. Now, more than ever, a sustainable investment is needed in mental health community base funding so that counties can continue to provide services to strengthen and secure the social services safety net that was already stretched to capacity before seeing increased demand as individuals cope with the traumatic effects of our current situation.

As we emerge from our stay-at-home order and the initial grip of COVID-19, it is clear that these services will be critical to reintegrating individuals and communities back into their new routines.

While we understand that the state will be considering its own budget implications from unexpected revenue shortfalls, we must remember that the state and counties are partners in effectively maintaining healthy, safe and resilient communities. State funding levels for county mental health services have direct impacts on whether these important community and family supports will be available, including expanded mental health services, beds and diversions.

At this juncture, we recognize that everyone has been hard hit by the ongoing financial impacts of the pandemic. Counties strongly urge the General Assembly and the Wolf Administration to show their support of Pennsylvania’s residents by investing in the mental health community base that will continue to provide critical supports to individuals dealing with the effects of the coronavirus trauma in the coming year and reinforce mental health service provision for years to come.

Jeff Snyder is president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania and an elected county commissioner for Clinton County.