‘You’re not alone’: Wolf admin stresses state services for people who need help during the holidays

Produced By: - December 21, 2022 12:52 pm

For Pennsylvanians struggling with mental health challenges, substance use disorder, suicidal thoughts or financial problems, state officials gathered beneath the Capitol Christmas Tree on Wednesday to deliver a simple message: You are not alone. And there is help.

“That’s not just lip service,” Pennsylvania Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs Secretary Jen Smith said. “Please don’t be afraid to reach out.” Smith was joined by officials from the state Departments of Aging, Health, Human Services, and Military and Veterans Affairs, all of whom delivered a similar message.

Substance Abuse

For Pennsylvanians living with substance use disorder, or for those in recovery, the state’s Mental Health and SUD Resource guides offer information related to mental health screenings, finding a mental health or SUD treatment professional, resources for housing insecurity, help with trauma due to racism, and assistance with contacting your county assistance offices and county drug and alcohol offices, and applying for benefits, DDAP said in a statement.

People who need help immediately also can call the agency’s helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (Or 1-800-662-4357). Callers are connected to trained counselors who can connect them with services, regardless of their insurance status, Smith said.

“There are sights and sounds of promise all around us,” Smith said. “It’s my hope that every Pennsylvanian will be living their best lives free of addiction.”

Access to Naloxone

Pa. Physician General/acting Health Secretary Dr. Denise Johnson speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday, 12/21/22 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

State Physician General/acting Health Secretary Denise Johnson urged state residents to do their part to fight addiction by carrying the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone with them at all times. The drug is available, without a prescription, in a variety of formats, at local pharmacies. People also can get the drug mailed to them at their homes by completing a short training through a partnership with NEXT Distro, the state Health Department said in a statement.

“The administration continues to help individuals suffering from substance use disorder, because every life is worth saving,” Johnson said. “One of our initiatives has been increasing access to four types of naloxone through the updated standing order, allowing people to get naloxone without a prescription at your local pharmacy or through the mail. With the holiday season upon us, I encourage you to carry this tool, because you never know when you will have the opportunity to save a life.”

Mental Health Challenges

State officials urged people struggling with mental health challenges, such as depression or anxiety, or those who might be contemplating suicide, to call, text, or chat the 988 national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Callers also are connected to trained counselors who can refer them to services, provide immediate, emergency assistance, or offer a sympathetic ear. Callers to the 988 line also can connect to the Veterans Crisis Line, or obtain assistance in Spanish, administration officials said.

Wolf admin. celebrates launch of 988 helpline, says there’s more work to be done

The 988 lifeline’s services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost to the caller. Additional free resources are available to assist Pennsylvanians with mental health needs and connect to longer term support in their community, the administration said in its statement.

“The holidays can be a joyous time as we gather with our loved ones to celebrate the season, but we also understand that the responsibilities and expectations of the season can cause stress and lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. If you are going through hard times, please know that you are not alone and it is okay to reach out for help if you need an extra hand,” state Department of Human Services Executive Deputy Secretary Andrew Barnes said. “DHS is here to help no matter the time of year – we administer and oversee programs and resources that provide support. We can all do our part during this season to help make the holidays better and brighter for our families, friends, and fellow Pennsylvanians. If you need help, please reach out, and if you can provide help, please do so.”

The department also offers services for people living with autism and intellectual disabilities and their care-givers. Those services can be accessed at www.myodp.org or www.paautism.org.

Economic Help

For Pennsylvanians might be struggling financially this holiday season, Barnes added that a number of services, such as the Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program all are available, and can be accessed through the agency’s website.

“No one should ever have to choose between putting food on the table, going to the doctor, or heating their homes,” Barnes said.

Older Pennsylvanians

While isolation isn’t uncommon during the holidays, older Pennsylvanians are particularly impacted by it, and it can negatively impact both their physical and mental health, state Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres said Wednesday.

A wide array of services are available through the 52 Area Agency on Aging offices, covering all 67 counties, Torres said. Older adults can locate their local area agency on aging here. Older Pennsylvanians who are living with disabilities can access services through the PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Centers, also known as the PA Link, which connects to such support services as  assistive technology to access telehealth services, check-in calls and options to help reduce social isolation. Any older adult needing support can contact the PA Link Call Center by phone at 1-800-753-8827 or online at www.carelink.pa.gov, the administration said.

Grandparents who might be raising children, as well as other family members such as aunts, uncles, and cousins may access services through KinConnector helpline by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111) or online at kinconnector.org.

“If any older adult is struggling emotionally or mentally, we want them to know they are not alone, and that the Department of Aging and AAAs have resources to support them. These resources range from engaging with a caring voice on the other end of a phone call to gathering safely, either in-person or virtually, with like-minded individuals for socializing and participating in activities. I encourage any older adult who may need support to please reach out to us.”

Service Members and their Families

Veterans who require services can access them through through PA VETConnect, Rick Hamp, the special assistant to the deputy adjutant general for Veteran Affairs, said Wednesday. Field staff for the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs networks through all 67 counties, and they are “well-versed in the substance abuse and mental health resources available for veterans to get the help they need now,” the agency said in its statement.

In partnership with Veteran & First Responder Health, the DMVA has supported veterans suffering from opioid use disorder by providing services through in-person and telehealth services. Some of those services include Medicated Assisted Treatment; Intensive Outpatient Program; Outpatient; and Case Management, officials said.

Service members, veterans and their families who find themselves in crisis can access free, confidential support 24/7 by calling the new, easy-to-remember Veterans Crisis Line at 988, then Press 1.

“It is important to continue having a conversation about substance use disorder and mental health, not only during the holiday season, but all year round,” Hamp said.

“This is particularly important when it comes to active service members, veterans and their families. They face social challenges outside of the norm due to deployments, separation from loved ones and even war,” he added. “Programs like the ones we are talking about today go a long way in helping everyone who ever wore a uniform, and their families know that help is available and somebody cares.”

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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