HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Today, a mental health ‘March on Harrisburg’ brought over 100 advocates to the front steps of the State Capitol. Despite what advocates call “a modest” funding increase for mental health services in this year’s budget, they say more dollars are necessary.

Schools and counties will see additional funds for mental health services once the Legislature and Governor approve legislation to drive out remaining budget dollars. The budget was signed in early August, but nearly $1 billion need accompanying legislation to be disbursed. 

“We haven't finished the fight. That being said, you are here to help us finish it,” state Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Lehigh) told rally attendees Wednesday morning. 

The increases in the final budget agreement are a positive sign for advocates and organizers, but they say the demand for mental health services is growing each day.

“This is the first year in more than a decade that there's funding on the table, $20 million to go to the counties. We’re very appreciative of that amount. But it's really just touching the surface on the type of county-based funding needed,” said Jim Sharp with the Rehabilitation And Community Providers Association (RCPA). 

Following the COVID-19 Pandemic, Sharp says stigma surrounding mental health has reduced. He believes it's driving more people to ask for help. 

I think after the pandemic, we began to become more aware about mental health. The stigma around mental health was reducing, and I think that's encouraging. But what it did is it increased the number of people coming forward, increased the need, and we have to have funding and a workforce that is going to be commensurate with the need in the state,” said Sharp, who hopes today’s rally and march will move the conversation forward.  

"Bringing together supporters, advocates, systems leaders, as well as individuals with lived experience to raise our collective voices in terms of the support, the funding and the development of the workforce to deliver critical services to very vulnerable Pennsylvanians,” said Sharp. 

The rally provided an opportunity for individuals with lived experience, like John Herrmann, to share stories of how resources and providers have helped. 

“I call it the roller coaster. I have the highs and lows,” said Herrmann, who lives with bipolar disorder. 

Through connection and relationships with community and mental health organizations, Herrmann says he came to realize he’s not alone.  

“I figured out I'm not the only one that has this,” said Herrmann, who now shares his story to help and educate others. “If I can make one change with one system that can really help somebody else, I can say I did my job,” he added. 

“This isn't an issue that we're ever going to solve, but it's an issue where progress is measured in increments. Those increments mean lives saved. So fight for those people, fight for those increments, and together, we will make a difference on mental health,” said Rep. Schlossberg.