Occupational therapists have a role to play in Wolf’s plan to fight mental illness. Here’s how | Opinion

Gov. Tom Wolf was joined by agency officials and mental health advocates in the state Capitol to announce a new, statewide mental health initiative. Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a new initiative aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness.

In a Jan. 2 story for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison wrote that Wolf’s plan was intended to not only reduce stigma, but also to diminish the factors that prevent people living with mental illness from seeking help.

The most important area described in this article is the movement’s potential effect on the Departments of Health, Human Services, and Insurance.

Hardison wrote that health insurance plans and regulations may be reviewed to offer better coverage of mental health services. Incarcerated and underserved populations were also noted by having corrections and the criminal justice system joining the effort to reduce and prevent people with mental illness going to prison.

Gov. Wolf’s effort to reduce the stigma of mental illness will drastically affect many divisions of Pennsylvania’s healthcare system from institutions and providers to patients. One faction of providers who will be positively impacted are occupational therapists.

Occupational therapy plays an important (yet often overlooked) role in mental health treatment. Occupational therapists are experts in delivering therapy focused on meaningful activities people want to do, need to do, and are required to do.

Along with physical and environmental factors, patient mental health lays an important foundation in this treatment. Gov. Wolf’s proposal will encourage the community to seek treatment for mental health, therefore, opening the door for occupational therapists to deliver services to more patients in need.

Pa. county commissioners put mental health funding front and center on 2020 budget wish list

Another potential way this proposal affects occupational therapy is increasing their role in underserved and incarcerated populations.

A major concern of the inmate population is occupational injustice or deprivation. People suffering from occupational injustice lack the opportunities to participate in meaningful activities- a common example being the incarcerated population. Improving access for underserved patients with mental health issues to occupational therapy will prevent them from entering the criminal justice system.

Additionally, expanding occupational therapy in the prison systems will increase quality of life and potentially reduce recidivism in Pennsylvania.

As stated earlier, Wolf’s mental health initiative will also focus on health insurance plans and increasing the coverage of mental health treatment. Increasing insurance coverage will allow the community to easily access mental health occupational therapists.

It will also greatly impact underserved and lower socioeconomic status populations who lack comprehensive insurance coverage. Allowing this population access to occupational therapists will further reduce stigma surrounding mental health treatment and decrease the out of pocket cost of treatment significantly.

As an occupational therapy student, I am passionate about health advocacy and insurance coverage, but I personally believe Wolf’s proposal will greatly impact mental health across the underserved population.

Focusing on the mental health and occupational deprivation of inmates will positively impact their quality of life. Additionally, the community will be impacted by hopefully halting the increasing cost of prisons, which a study cited by Wolf costs Pennsylvania approximately $140 million each year.

Wolf’s movement is introducing an exciting change to Pennsylvania’s healthcare system that should not be overlooked.

Kelsey Newman is studying occupational therapy at the University of Pittsburgh, with a graduation date of 2022.