Approximately 300 Pennsylvanians marched around the Pennsylvania Capitol to send state lawmakers a message: “increase mental health funding now.” The “March on Harrisburg” was spearheaded by advocates — including a number of service providers, recovery organizations/programs, individuals and family members with lived experience from across the state — as funding has not kept up with demand, forcing providers to cut programs and services and rendering them unable to invest in and retain human services workers.
“Mental health touches every Pennsylvanian in some way, and I hope state lawmakers finally saw that today,” said Richard S. Edley, PhD, Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association president/CEO. “Our members and provider networks can no longer continue to provide the same level of care and service at the current funding levels. It is our hope that the General Assembly finally sees the need after today and comes together to deliver funding that will allow us to promote equal access to all Pennsylvanians and to provide our dedicated human services workforce with living, sustainable wages.”
Despite a small increase in the 2023-24 budget, providers and advocates say it was not enough. Current funding only allows providers to sustain basic services, unable to help all the Pennsylvanians waiting for mental health treatment and support. And with limited funding, providers have been unable to invest in human services professionals, causing the workforce to leave for other family-sustaining professions.
“Mental health is essential to overall health, and Medicaid funding is not available for all,” said Christine Michaels, CEO of NAMI Keystone Pennsylvania. “Early treatment prevents long-term costs, and while we appreciate the recent funding increase, we need a greater investment so that we can provide the same level of quality service. A reasonable funding package would allow us to expand services, fairly pay our hardworking employees and help those who need it.”
Speakers at the event include state Rep. Mike Schlossberg, who spoke about how his struggles with depression led him to seek support. “I know that mental health touches every Pennsylvanian. We just need more support on both sides of the aisle,” Schlossberg said. “I urge my fellow lawmakers in joining me to heed the call we heard today, and provide adequate funding for these life-saving resources.”
Also speaking was human services leader and advocate Joan Erney, who asked lawmakers to include the mental health community in funding discussions and deliberations. “Please listen to each and every one of us when we say it’s not enough,” Erney said. “Lives are at stake if the General Assembly continues to provide inadequate funding. Nothing about us should be done without us.”
An October 2022 special report from the Pennsylvania Behavioral Health Commission said that nearly 34% of Pennsylvanians have a mental illness or substance use disorder, above the 31% U.S. average. A February 2021 report from NAMI said that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, with more than 1.8 million adults — six times the population of Pittsburgh — in the state having a mental health condition. More than 94% of those adults live in communities without enough mental health professionals, according to NAMI.