Schlossberg mental health bill to help first responders heads to governor

HARRISBURG, July 15 -- Bipartisan legislation introduced by state Reps. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, and Frank Farry, R-Bucks, that would establish an emergency responder mental wellness and stress management program in Pennsylvania is headed to the governor’s desk. 

The bill was amended and passed unanimously this week in the state Senate and then unanimously in the House. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law.

Under the bill, a variety of services to support first responders would launch through the Pennsylvania Department of Health in cooperation with the Department of Human Services, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, county mental health offices and the state fire commissioner.

“For the past several months, as we’ve struggled through a pandemic, we have spent a lot of time giving credit to first responders for the heroic work they do for our communities,” Schlossberg said. “The dedication of our first responders goes beyond these challenging times. We owe them more than our words of gratitude. They deserve the resources and programs they need to get help.”

Under the bill, support would include peer-to-peer support programs, training for peer support efforts, a toll-free helpline, statewide and regional stress management support, trauma and suicide awareness training, and support for nonprofit organizations already doing this work.

Schlossberg said recent studies have shown that first responders have higher rates of depression, alcohol abuse, sleep disturbances, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts.

To make these programs possible, the bill would direct $250,000 annually be dedicated to the Statewide Critical Incident Stress Management Program through the Catastrophic Medical and Rehabilitation Fund for victims of trauma.

“It is critical for first responders to understand that asking for help is a sign of strength, and allows them to better serve our communities,” Schlossberg said. “We need to get this right to live up to our end of the bargain so first responders can focus on saving lives.”

Schlossberg has been open about his own mental health issues to show others that people can lead productive lives if they receive proper treatment. He is chairman of the bipartisan House Mental Health Caucus and has led informational sessions to provide more information about the affliction to his colleagues.

“Make no mistake: this is not the end of the conversation about improving mental health care in Pennsylvania. There are other populations in our communities in desperate need of these services, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to save lives of Pennsylvanians,” he said.