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Wolf Administration Hosts Webinar on Stigma Surrounding Mental Health, Suicide, and Substance Use Disorder

The departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), Health (DOH), and Human Services (DHS) today hosted an educational webinar to address stigma surrounding mental health, suicide and substance use disorder and how reporting and dialogue around these topics can promote openness and acceptance.

“Mental illness affects one in five Pennsylvanians, but it is not always visible; this invisibility can make people feel isolated and unable to share their experience or seek help,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “Silence can perpetuate stigma and prevent people from realizing the better life that is possible. We all can play a role in eliminating stigma and supporting our family, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors affected by mental illness, suicide, or a substance use disorder.”

The webinar was held in conjunction with Prevent Suicide PA and Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health Stigma Lab, a research group that focused on developing and promoting evidence-based, person-focused communications strategies to reduce stigma toward people with mental illness and substance use disorders.

“Each of us have been affected in some way by the opioid crisis and substance use disorder and we have an obligation to come together and support individuals through their journey to recovery,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “With September being Recovery Month and a heightened focus on reducing stigma for individuals with substance use disorder, I challenge each of us to be more caring and compassionate. The words we use matter and even subtle changes to our vocabulary can have a huge impact in ending stigma and ultimately give an individual who is suffering the courage to seek help.”

Reducing stigma can help people living with a substance use disorder or behavioral health condition know that they are not alone, resources and help are available, and they are not limited or defined by a mental health condition or addiction. Studies by Stigma Lab have found that public portrayals of people living with untreated mental illness and addiction let study respondents to express less sympathy and more negative attitudes towards people affected by these illnesses. Conversely, stories of people who succeed in treatment for a mental illness or a substance use disorder lead to greater faith in treatment systems and programs and less discrimination against these groups, and an increased desire to include people living with mental illness or in recovery in all opportunities and parts of society.

Studies on reporting on suicide have also affect people who may be at risk of attempting suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has identified stories that describe methods in explicit detail and repeated coverage of suicide attempts can increase risk of duplicated attempts. However, reporting on suicide as a public health issues, using careful language and referring readers to supportive services can help people who may be affected seek help.

“It is essential that people understand that substance use disorders and mental health concerns are not shortcomings, or moral failings, but diseases,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “Our efforts must focus on reducing the stigma that surrounds certain diseases and conditions. People struggling with addiction or depression must know that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. According to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country and is one of only three that are on the rise. In Pennsylvania, suicide rates have increased by 34 percent since 1999. The CDC reports that problems with relationships, substance use, physical health conditions, a job or financial situation, and the legal system or another crisis most often contribute to suicide, and more than 50 percent of people who die by suicide do not have a known mental health condition. Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force is bringing together multi-disciplinary state agencies, the General Assembly, and advocates and stakeholders to create a unified, multi-disciplinary approach to preventing suicide and helping people affected.

September is also National Recovery Month. Pennsylvania is hosting Stop Overdoses in PA: Get Help Now Week, where residents will be able to go to a state health center or their local pharmacy to get the overdose reversal medication naloxone at no cost on September 18 and 25. This medication reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and gives the patient a chance at recovery. Find a naloxone distribution site in your community here.

For more information on mental health services in Pennsylvania and the Suicide Prevention Task Force, visit

For more information on Pennsylvania’s efforts to fight the opioid crisis and resources for people affected, visit

If you or someone you know needs immediate help for a substance use disorder, call the toll-free, 24/7 Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4356). A live chat option is also available online or via text message at 717-216-0905 for those seeking help who may not be comfortable speaking to a helpline operator.

If you or someone you love is in crisis or you are considering harming yourself, free help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

MEDIA CONTACT: Ali Fogarty, DHS - 717-425-7606

                               Rachel Kostelac, DDAP – 717-547-3314

                               Nate Wardle, DOH – 717-787-1783


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