WASHINGTON, D.C. (Erie News Now) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health challenges impact millions of Americans, and many have a hard time finding and paying for mental health services.

There’s no shortage of challenges facing mental health professionals. 

“Workforce is a tremendous hurdle for accessing mental health care. We're also seeing burnout as a significant factor,” said Laurel Stine, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). 

These challenges come at a time when people need services most. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-in-five, or almost 60 million adults in the US experience mental illness. 

“We are facing a mental health crisis, a suicide crisis, and a substance use crisis,” said Stine. 

Stine says even though there’s been significant progress in recent decades- 

 “Mental health is still not recognized on par with physical health care,” said Stine. 

Now, a group of US senators are trying to elevate mental health with the ‘United States Senate Commission on Mental Health Act Of 2024.’  

Senator John Fetterman (D- PA) is leading that legislative effort. 

“That conversation is a national conversation and it's a red and a blue conversation,” said Sen. Fetterman, who is motivated by his own, personal experience. 

Last year, the freshman senator checked himself in to receive treatment for clinical depression. 

“I’m grateful, I got the kinds of help that allowed me to be back. And I would want that for anybody,” said Fetterman. “And I'm always humbled when I encounter people who say, ‘Hey, you being open about that has helped me.’” 

Fetterman says the proposed commission would improve access to and affordability of mental health services. 

Access and affordability, along with reducing stigma, is paramount for advocates like Stine. 

“Bring in those voices and helping reduce the stigma, this is a senator who's coming forth with his challenges,” said Stine. “It takes the will of public policymakers. It takes the will of private and public agencies and organizations, advocates and other stakeholders to really come together.” 

“Stay in the game. It may not get better tomorrow or next week, but as long as you stay in this game, it is going to get better,” said Fetterman.