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‘Young People are Showing the Adults the Way,’ Shapiro Says About Mental Health Investments

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by Marley Parish, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 17, 2023

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro sat down with students in Westmoreland County on Wednesday to discuss ways to invest in mental health — especially addressing challenges for young people — statewide.

And after a closed-press discussion with Hempfield Area High schoolers, the Democratic governor said his administration is evaluating how later start times and peer-to-peer mentoring could prioritize mental health and help destigmatize the issue.

But when it comes to investing in mental health, Shapiro — who also made the trip to promote his $44.4 billion budget proposal — said school districts should get to decide how best to help their students.

“We need to prioritize just over half a billion dollars in student mental health for the next five years,” Shapiro said after meeting with students and staff. “That’s a serious downpayment on the needs [of] our students. Schools will then be able to use this money to meet their district’s unique needs, meaning Harrisburg wouldn’t dictate to Hempfield exactly what they need to do.”

For some schools, that could mean hiring more guidance counselors. Others might decide to establish partnerships with behavioral health specialists or telehealth options.

Shapiro said that during his talk with students, they noted that mental health challenges affect young people whether schools are in session or not, asking for a “comprehensive solution” that ensures accessible resources.

“There has been a stigma associated with mental health and getting help for mental health challenges, but what’s exciting for me and what’s uplifting for me is that with this generation, that stigma is starting to dissipate,” Shapiro said. “Young people are showing the adults the way.”

The governor’s proposed spending plan, unveiled to lawmakers in March, would allocate $500 million over five years to increase mental health support for students across the commonwealth through $100 million block grants for school-based resources. It also includes $60 million in annual funding for county-based mental health services.

The Shapiro administration said more than 40% of Pennsylvania students reported symptoms of depression in 2021. The governor also said Safe2Say Something, an anonymous tip reporting system, has received over 100,000 tips. Of those tips, more than 75% were students reaching out for individual help or on behalf of someone else.

“We have seen an increased need for mental health services over the past several years, and we are always looking for ways to assist our students in this area,” Hempfield Area High School Principal David Palmer said. “We have a passionate student body who are aware of this growing concern and want to do everything they can to help.”

Nick Miller, a junior at Hempfield, said investing in mental health is more than budgets and money.

“There are other things that need to be changed,” he said, citing advocacy from the American Academy of Pediatrics for later school start times.

In April, the Upper St. Clair School District in Allegheny County announced it was considering later start times for the upcoming school year.

Shapiro said he asked Miller to share his research about later start times with his administration.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.