Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration shared resources for people struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, and other stressors this holiday season. The holidays can be both a time of joy and a period of stress for people, and people who are more likely to experience mental health challenges like active duty military, veterans and their loved ones may feel them more acutely because of the pandemic.
“This year has challenged all of us in many ways, and for individuals who are more likely to or currently deal with a mental health challenge like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, the collective challenges we face may be felt more acutely,” said Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller. “The holiday season and our family traditions will look different this year, but we do not have to be cut off from our support networks entirely. No matter what you are feeling this year, please know that you do not have to endure it alone. Talk to your loved ones, talk to your support network, and don’t be afraid to make a call to resources that exist to help.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 4 active duty military personnel report some kind of mental health challenge, and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder can continue throughout a veteran’s life even after retiring from service. Military spouses and children can also experience anxiety and depression due to the stress of being separated from their loved ones. Because of the additional strain created by COVID-19, the Wolf Administration is encouraging all active duty military, veterans, and their loved ones to pay special mind to their mental health and not endure anything they are feeling alone.
“The holiday season can be a stressful time for veterans who are already a vulnerable population due to their challenging service to our nation,” said Rick Hamp, special assistant to the deputy adjutant general for Veterans Affairs with the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Throw in the complications of COVID-19 and it is extremely important that Pennsylvania’s nearly 800,000 veterans are aware that they have access to programs and services that can help them with their physical and emotional needs. This collaboration among state agencies is an ideal way to raise awareness about the many state resources available to Pennsylvania’s veterans, and helps to improve or even save lives.”
People who experience feelings of anxiety or depression may experience more distress during the holiday season than during normal times. Given the challenges we are all currently facing, all Pennsylvanians should take extra care to be mindful of their mental health and tend to their overall health and wellness during this time. Check in with yourself, be honest to yourself and your support network about how you are feeling, and if you need someone to talk to or a little extra support, help is available.
DHS’ mental health support & referral helpline, Persevere PA, is available 24/7, including on holidays, and is a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate counselors available to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions. The helpline counselors refer callers to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs. Pennsylvanians can contact Persevere PA at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.
If you or someone you love is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Spanish speakers who need immediate assistance can call 1-888-628-9454. Help can also be accessed through the Crisis Text Line by texting “PA” to 741-741.
The United States Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services also operate a Veterans Crisis Line in conjunction with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This free, confidential resource is available for veterans, active duty service members, active duty and reserve National Guard members, and family and friends of service members or veterans. The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or through text at 838255. A chat option is also available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net.
Substance Use Disorder
The holidays may also be difficult for individuals with a substance use disorder or people in recovery, especially if they become stressed by changes to their schedule or daily routine, are not able to see their support network in-person, have strained or no relationships with family members, or are faced with potential triggers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most dangerous time of the year for substance use and alcohol-related deaths is around the holiday months.
“It is important for all of us to remember that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the lives of our loved ones, the opioid epidemic hasn’t ended,” said Department of Drug and Alcohol (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith. “We are still losing far too many Pennsylvanians in drug-related fatalities, and even more unfortunate is that many of these Pennsylvanians are veterans. I cannot stress enough that if you need substance use disorder services, help is available. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help to lead a happy, healthy life.”
The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs also maintains a toll-free helpline that connects callers looking for treatment options for themselves or a loved one to resources in their community. You can reach the Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is available 24/7 – including on holidays. An anonymous chat service offering the same information to individuals who may not be comfortable speaking on the phone is also available at www.ddap.pa.gov.
Naloxone is still available to all Pennsylvanians through Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s standing order, and carrying this on-hand at all times can be a life-saving action. The Wolf Administration encourages all Pennsylvanians to take advantage of the standing order to obtain Naloxone over the holidays. Learn more about how to obtain naloxone at www.pa.gov/opioids.