First Lady Frances Wolf Hosts Virtual Conversation Addressing Mental Health, Trauma and Equity During COVID-19

First Lady Frances Wolf addressed mental health, trauma, and equity during COVID-19 in a virtual conversation hosted on Facebook. This was the third conversation in a series titled, “The Bigger Picture,” an extension of One Lens: Sharing Our Common Views that hones in on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting this extraordinary moment to the broader community.

The full conversation can be found on the One Lens Facebook page.

“Challenges in mental health, trauma, and equity existed long before COVID-19 struck Pennsylvania, but the pandemic has made these issues more obvious,” said First Lady Wolf. “Isolation, job loss, and death continue to characterize this time, and coupled with systemic racism and discrimination, the amount of trauma people are experiencing is unbelievable. This is a conversation that has been had time and time again, but we must keep bringing these issues to the forefront until there’s real change.”

Conversation panelists included Kristen Houser, Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Porcha Johnson, CEO and Founder of Black Girl Health and Executive Director of Black Girl Health Foundation; Dan Jurman, Executive Director of Governor Wolf’s Office of Advocacy and Reform; and, David Saunders, Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity. They all shed light on how matters of mental health, trauma, and equity have been amplified during the pandemic.

Jurman opened the discussion defining trauma and its effects on people. “The chronic stress and trauma we’ve all been feeling since the start of the pandemic, and that some people felt long before, are normal reactions to extraordinary circumstances from which we can recover and heal with the right tools and help,” said Jurman. He identified ways that the Office of Advocacy and Reform are addressing trauma in Pennsylvania, providing the tools to help people heal.

Houser described the full impact of trauma. “Too often, when we discuss trauma we keep our focus on the devastation done to individuals, and forget to look at the ripple effect trauma has through families and communities,” Houser said. “Perhaps even more tragically, we rarely talk about resilience within individuals, families and communities. After 30 years of working with survivors of sexual assault – from individual incidents to family experiences to institutional coverups – one thing is certain: when we connect with each other with compassion, the result is resilience and healing. We need to talk about that and offer hope – it is what helps people move through their despair.”

Saunders quoted Daniel Dawes and Brian C. Castrucci from a STAT News opinion article titled, Back to ‘normal’ isn’t good enough, shedding light on the role policy plays in leveling the inequities that existed before the pandemic and that were magnified because of the pandemic. “Normal is merely the uninterrupted systems and policies that prop up and perpetuate inequities. And only policy can fix what policy has broken, like increasing the federal minimum wage, making investments to improve the quality and availability of affordable housing, providing incentives to improve schools, and repairing and rebuilding businesses owned by people of color in underserved communities.”

Johnson, whose work is rooted in “reducing health disparities among minorities and communities with the highest health risks”, discussed how her foundation is addressing health inequities. She stated that the, “Black Girl Health Foundation is helping people become change agents in their own lives.”

Several resources exist for Pennsylvanians in need of crisis counseling, mental or emotional support, and addiction treatment.

In times of mental health crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text PA to 741741 to be connected to the Crisis Text Line. If you need mental and emotional support or information about local resources, call the Persevere PA Helpline at 855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600. For help finding addiction treatment, please call 1-800-662-HELP or text 717-216-0905 to be connected via chat.

The Mental Health Resources guide also helps individuals find supports that work for them.

One Lens: Sharing Our Common Views is a statewide virtual photo exhibit organized by the First Lady’s Office in partnership with PHMC, the PA Council on the Arts, and the PA Tourism Office. It celebrates the hard work and commitment of all Pennsylvanians as we continue our fight against COVID-19. The exhibit is now accepting submissions and will remain open through Monday, March 8, 2021. The full exhibit will be released on Friday, March 19, 2021. More information about One Lens can be found on the website.

Information on future virtual conversations for The Bigger Picture and other updates can be found on the One Lens Facebook and Instagram pages.