¬– Mental health services in Pennsylvania, particularly in rural areas, are in trouble and in need of assistance. This is what members of the House Republican Policy Committee heard during a hearing hosted by Rep. Jamie Flick (R-Lycoming/Union) in Williamsport, according to Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland), vice chairman of the committee.
“Lycoming County is a prime example of many rural areas of the state,” Flick said. “While we undoubtedly face challenges, we are also getting help to those who need it. That said, providing services could be made easier so more people are helped and continue to receive the mental health services they need.”
Keith Wagner, executive director of the Lycoming-Clinton Joinder Board Programs, testified that an issue mental health care providers face is population density. In particular, the Lycoming-Clinton Joinder serves a combined population of 151,638 lives in an area covering 2,141 square miles. The sprawling area, which causes patients to travel greater distances, directly relates to the most significant barriers for rural counties to providing effective mental health services: population, access and funding.
There is also a stigma of seeking mental health services, Wagner said. That is compounded in rural communities where the likelihood of being seen seeking mental health services by someone you know is greater.
Another testifier, Sherry Shaffer, chief operating officer of UPMC’s Community Care Behavioral Health Organization, noted mental health problems often have underlying, unmet needs such as unemployment, food insecurity and difficulties finding affordable housing. Affordable housing and employment opportunities also differ in and between rural communities.
“Life presents a multitude of challenges that bring the highest of highs and lowest of lows,” said Ecker. “It's okay not to be okay and taking care of your mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. I would like to thank Rep. Jamie Flick and the testifiers for holding this forum and highlighting the resources that are available to those who are struggling.”