Voice your struggles: Pittsburgh university students create spaces to talk about mental health during the pandemic

Facing a deepening pandemic, another stretch of mostly online classes and a national backdrop of political turmoil, Pittsburgh-area students are turning to their colleges — and to each other — to meet growing mental health needs. Kayla Koch, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, said students were already struggling with the transition that college life brings, but the pandemic has made everything harder. “The entire pandemic is a time of trauma," Koch said. "We are all living through a trauma and expected to produce and exist as if we are not.”

She's working to create a space for students to talk honestly about mental health. “Our goal is to come into these meetings and say, ‘This is normal.

Amanda Papa, 33, of Coraopolis, was arrested during a mental health crisis in 2018. “The whole thing could’ve just been stopped, and we [would] probably pay the therapist way less than these officers, these courts, all the staff, all the records — everything." (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Resolved to change: Can Allegheny County behavioral crisis teams move fast enough to answer calls for reform?

Someone you love is having a breakdown. They could hurt themselves. Who do you call? If 911 leaps to mind, you’ll likely get a visit in a few minutes — from police, whose training includes behavioral health but is focused more on addressing criminality. If you can remember 1-888-796-8226 (or 1-888-7-YOU-CAN), you’ll get a mental health professional from resolve Crisis Services, a 13-year-old unit of UPMC hired by Allegheny County to handle behavioral incidents.

Kimberly Champion at Point Park University (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

Is mental health care available for Pittsburghers who have experienced racial trauma?

Racial trauma is a form of race-based stress that refers to reactions to real or perceived experiences of racial discrimination. The difference between racial trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], psychologists say, is that PTSD typically refers to past events. Due to the prevalence of racism, racial trauma refers to ongoing experiences. Experiences include threats of harm and injury, humiliating and shameful events and witnessing discrimination.

Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

‘It almost broke me.’ How the pandemic is straining mental health at Allegheny County Jail.

No personal visitors, hardly any time for inmates outside of their cells and chronic vacancies in mental health and health staff raise concerns that the mental health of Allegheny County Jail [ACJ] inmates is deteriorating, according to inmates recently incarcerated there, family members of current inmates, advocates and current and former ACJ staff.  

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Behavioral crisis responses and police are focus of new, unannounced Allegheny County panel

As incidents both local and national continue to raise questions about policing and mental health, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services [DHS] has quietly convened a panel that appears to be reviewing the public safety and social services response to behavioral health crises. The 28-member Allegheny County Crisis Response Stakeholder Group held its first full meeting, virtually, on Friday. The meeting included remarks by DHS staff including Director Marc Cherna, plus county Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert, and representatives of The Pittsburgh Foundation* and the Council of State Governments Justice Center. Its formation does not appear to have been heralded by any public announcement. It comes as the city sees near-daily protests demanding changes in policing, sometimes including calls to “defund” police, which some describe as the shift of law enforcement resources to human services or community building.