Mental health access in the Midstate and across US is hard to come by

Health

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Getting mental health help can be difficult right now. Demand is high and accessing services is a struggle.

Psychologists describe calendars that are completely full of appointments, long waitlists, and dozens of people being turned away. It’s a problem with serious consequences for those looking to tackle their mental health issues.

Dr. Kimberly Ernest, a psychologist with Pennsylvania Counseling Services, says her office is constantly busy and it’s hard for new clients to make appointments.

“It’s certainly not gotten any easier to access services,” Ernest said.

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It’s been this way for months now, which is frustrating for those seeking help.

Dr. Melissa Brown, a psychologist with UPMC, says when people are forced to wait it can have negative consequences.

“If they are finally at a point where they are like I need help and I need support and then they can’t get an appointment for weeks or months then that certainly takes the air out of their balloon and it feels defeating to them,” Brown said.

For those battling things like depression or addiction, the delay can even be dangerous. For many people, waiting for mental health treatment means jobs, relationships, and physical health can suffer.

“It has so many profound effects on the world and it impacts it on so many levels,” Brown said.

Both say one of the big problems is a lack of funding, which has also left the field understaffed.

“My hope is that we will see some of that change as we see legislation seek to address the different factors exacerbated by the pandemic,” Ernest said.

If you’re having trouble finding help, they suggest being patient and persistent.

“Obviously we strongly encourage people to keep trying to keep calling back, the situation is very fluid,” Ernest said.

In the meantime there are things you can do, like using online resources or self-care apps, relying on a strong support system of family and friends, and making sure you’re exercising and eating well.

“Self-care, we’ve heard all about that through the past two years or so. I know it’s nauseating for people to hear. But there’s little things you can do to reduce your stress,” Brown said.

It’s important to keep prioritizing your mental health as we wait for access to services to improve.

“I’m a psychologist. I believe things can get better by the very nature of my role, my existence, and the work that I do. So certainly I believe that it can get better,” Ernest said.

If you or a loved one need help, here’s a list of resources:
Crisis Text Line: Text PA to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK
National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://nami.org/Home
PA Support & Referral Helpline: 855-284-2494
Substance Abuse Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP
Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ+ Youth: 866-488-7386
Get help quickly: Simply dial 211

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