Updated: Oct 28, 2020
How one PA politician has worked to make mental health resources accessible to all. #papfa
Allegheny County’s very own State Representative, Dan Miller has worked to be a pioneer and advocate in the mental health field. He has been a member of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives since 2013 and since then he has strived to work on legislation that makes the lives of his constituents better. While his political career has witnessed successes in a number of different policy areas, it is his work with mental health advocacy, and the start of his Disability Summit that caught our eye.
Miller is the first person in his family to have been born in America. Being the child of immigrants, as well as being raised in a single mother household has made a mark on the kind of person, and politician he has become. Miller said;
“My family were very proud to come to America. They were big proponents of finding ways of being of service. That has always been instrumental in my life. As well as my experience in public service.”
Living that life of service started when Miller enlisted in the Army National Guard immediately following high school. While injury caused a change of plans he shifted to a different type of service, community service, and teaching the youth of America. With a degree in education and history, he worked as a teacher until he gained a law degree from Catholic University. With this degree, he continued on his life of service and became a public defender.
It is in this position that he said his draw to helping those with mental difficulties began. During his six years as a public defender, Miller worked to ensure justice for his clients but saw a giant flaw in the system. When he reflects back on these days he remembers a large number of his clients suffering from undiagnosed mental difficulties. Miller saw this as a big issue, but at that time he didn’t know just how wide the breadth of this issue was and is. “I planned on spending time on this, but I did not know it would be this much time,” said Miller.
While it was his time as a public defender that cemented his need to help those with mental difficulties, it was his time as a firefighter that got him interested in politics. A jack of all trades, Miller was able to not only continue helping people as a fireman, but he also got an inside view of how a local government operates. The intricate interworking of Mount Lebanon’s local government fascinated Miller and keeping on with the trajectory of his life he saw an opportunity to serve. His first political position was the position of municipal commissioner.
His climb to PA State Representative has been one of great triumph, and service but it is what he has done with this position where Miller has made an everlasting mark on the state of Pennsylvania’s position on mental health. For the past six years Miller has hosted what he calls “The Disability Summit.” This three-day event is responsible for bringing together nonprofit organizations, providers, support groups, and countless other resources for parents and families to utilize when they are trying to gather information pertaining to mental health.
This idea was born when Miller and his wife, Kim, attended a conference that was centered around the topic of Autism. They found this conference to be very informative and helpful but also thought about how it was not easily accessible to all of the people that could benefit from it. They envisioned a conference would be that not only encompassed all mental health difficulties but would also be easy to access and free for whoever wanted to attend.
The Disability Summit began in 2013 as a one-day event, lasting seven hours. This is a large scale-event itself but in the six years of its operation, it has grown massively, and now is a three-day event. Miller has witnessed the need for an accessible, and a free day full of information for anybody and everybody looking to get help or just more knowledge surrounding mental health. The summit is held each year in March and is what Miller describes as a
“one stop shop for all disability and mental health issues, you will not find a greater collection of resources in Western PA.”
A one-stop-shop, it is. The summit features keynote speakers and presentations on just about every topic you could think of. From how to help the elderly feel less isolated, to “riding the wave of mental health with humor” Miller and his team have crafted an experience for everybody. When asked what makes the summit different than any other conference he said that he is not only able to bring together nonprofits and organizations, but he is also able to bring in politicians from both sides of the aisle.
Miller prides himself on being a political advocate for mental health awareness. However, not every politician has the same desire to devote as much time as Miller has to mental health. He has some advice for those politicians; “I believe a vast majority of them want to be helpful, but they may not know what that means, some of that is on them, some of that is on us. We should educate them more and they need to be willing to be educated about the issues.”
The future of the Disability Summit is very bright. Miller sees next year as a cornerstone year where the event will grow even more in honor of the 30th anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act. He wants to find even more partners and continue to combat the stigma that constantly surrounds mental health. He wants every parent, child, and family who goes to the Disability Summit to not feel alone. Ending the embarrassment and having the visitors take pride in themselves and their parenting is essential to Miller. Ultimately Miller wants the events attendees to realize;
“To know that we are moving inclemently to a society of acceptance and knowledge in a way that will allow more and more people success and happiness; that would definitely be something I hope for everybody who attends.”
For more information on the Disability Summit, and the important work Representative Miller is working on visit the summit's website.