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Local Teen Mental Health Advocacy and Support Continues as PA Legislation Shows Progress

Virtual Teen Drop-Ins now available with Jewish Family and Community Services – photo courtesy JFCS

On April 27, Pennsylvania announced progress on legislation that would improve mental health insurance for residents, including teens. This comes at a time when many teens must face unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic that further expose the lack of available mental health resources.

Teens who participate in JHF's youth advocacy efforts recently shared new factors impacting their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, including loss of connections to trusted teachers and counselors, increased isolation and family stress, and grief over the potential loss of important milestones such as graduation.

"During this time, I have learned that I was not as emotionally stable as I thought. It never occurred to me that I went through each day working on school, clubs, and other activities, yet I thought nothing of myself," said Bina, a junior at Pittsburgh CAPA. "I lacked the ability to cope, so I overworked myself until I could feel no negative emotion. All I wish of this experience is for an understanding community that can get through problems together."

Youth Advocacy Network members had discussed the legislation during the advocacy workshop in March and expressed the need for progress. The legislation improves Pennsylvania's ability to monitor and enforce federal laws related to mental health parity, and it voted out of the PA House Insurance Committee on April 27. Mental health parity, the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders compared to physical health conditions in insurance plans, has been a policy priority for the PHFC and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF).

Locally, JHF continues to support its youth partners and organizations apart of the youth advocacy network and the UpStreet neighborhood-based teen mental health initiative in Squirrel Hill as they provide resources for teens. Now that many support systems are more difficult to access for teens, virtual programming and outreach has become critical.

UpStreet partners, Jewish Family and Community Services and Friendship Circle, are developing virtual program offerings, such as peer-to-peer texting and virtual drop-ins. They are also recruiting youth to participate in a teen advisory council to inform program strategies and the physical design of a drop-in center for mental health. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh is hosting virtual mental health and wellness programs for both teens and parents.

Despite the challenges, many of the teens in the advocacy network are finding meaningful ways to spend their time, and they've continued to support their peers by promoting mental health and wellness, and writing their legislators.

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