PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — Pennsylvania lawmakers are making mental health a top priority.

“Before the pandemic even started we saw the signs of a mental health crisis among our students and the pandemic has only made things worse,” said Chris Lilienthal, assistant director of communications at the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

The state is putting aside $100 million for in-school support; $100,000 will go to each school district.

Chris Lilienthal from the Pennsylvania State Education Association says this is a good start.

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“Students with mental and emotional health issues cannot focus on their academics. They are dealing with the after-effects of trauma. How can we expect them to focus on their schoolwork?” Chris Lilienthal said. 

Lilienthal says Pennsylvania lags in many metrics. He says he hopes this funding helps close the gap.

“We do not have enough counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers to meet the number of students we have,” he added.

At the same time, the state is preparing to launch a 988 mental health hotline this Saturday.

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“It’s not a new service but is a new phone number to make it easier to access an existing service,” said Kristen Houser, deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Houser says they’re waiting to see what demand is, but the 13 call centers in the state are ready.

“I think their only concern is that they’re able to provide care to everybody who’s calling,” Houser added. “We have built an extra safety net. If a call center in Pennsylvania that is unable to take a call that is routed to them, before it would roll over to the national back up system, it first rolls over to a Pennsylvania back up system.”

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