Youth Advocates Visit Legislators in Harrisburg for Mental Health Awareness Day
On May 6th, 19 youth advocates from southwestern Pennsylvania traveled to Harrisburg for Mental Health Awareness Day. The students represented 13 high schools in Allegheny and Beaver Counties, including; Aliquippa, Baldwin, Beaver, Beaver Falls, Freedom, Gateway, Hopewell, Montour, New Brighton, Quigley, South Side Area, Urban Pathways, Yeshiva Schools, as well as Robert Morris University. They were joined by JHF staff, Sally Jo Snyder, director of advocacy and consumer engagement for Consumer Health Coalition, and student advisors from the Beaver County Youth Ambassador Program, Maureen Hawk and Susan Smith.
On arrival to the Capital, youth divided in groups of three or four students to meet with state legislators and their staffs. They met with Senator Pam Iovino, Senator Jay Costa, Representative Anita Astorino Kulik, Representative Dan Miller, and staff for Representatives Robert Matzie and Camera Bartolotta. The youth advocated for increased mental health education for both teachers and students, additional mental health resources in schools including guidance counselors, and promoting awareness and stigma reduction. They urged the policymakers to support policies that create safe and inclusive school environments, and provide equitable resources to all school districts.
Rep. Michael Schlossberg, chair of the Mental Health Caucus, met with students and shared his story about dealing with depression and anxiety. He encouraged them to do the same as it is a powerful tool for advocacy and stigma reduction. The students observed a legislative session from the gallery and were recognized by Rep. Schlossberg from the House floor.
Joined by state representatives, the PA System of Care Partnership, and the youth advocates from JHF's youth advocacy network, Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller and Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine, MD, held an event in the Capitol Rotunda to raise awareness and promote open dialogue about mental health. "Be cognizant of others' mental health, not just throughout the month of May but every day. Every day we face different challenges, stressors, and triggers, and somedays are more difficult than others. But every day is a new opportunity to be a support and a resource, even if it's something as simple as asking some of if they are okay," said Secretary Miller in her remarks.
On the ride home, youth reflected on the day saying they appreciated the opportunity to take action, travel to the Capitol, and speak with policymakers: "The legislators had a conversation with us – a lot of times you don't feel listened to when talking to adults– but they gave us feedback, wanted to hear more, and invited us back." Youth plan to continue fostering relationships with their Representatives and invite them to mental health awareness events and to speak to their classmates at their schools.