mental health

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 1:51 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, crime, health, mental health, news, announcements.

How do rural counties with limited resources combat an issue as multifaceted as heroin and opiate addiction?

Quite simply, they collaborate to find common-sense practices to beat the dragon.

In January, officials, doctors, healthcare providers, and community members from three counties -- Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming -- formed the GOW Opioid Task Force.

Its goal is to not only raise awareness of the growing epidemic but to also find and compile: a list of resources available to addicts and their families; data on the number of overdoses, deaths, and uses of naloxone within each county; and identifying roadblocks to treatment.

During the July meeting, a roadmap of sorts was laid out for the Task Force.

From the time an individual is born, they are, to some degree, rated on performing tasks independently. Doctors gauge a child’s progress: Sits independently. Walks independently. Teachers grade a student’s performance: Works independently. It’s a skill desirable to some employers: Must be able to work independently.

It is a mantra instilled in a person's mind from a very young age: Be an individual. Don’t follow the crowd. Learn to be independent. Yet, there are times, when being independent becomes counterproductive to the needs of a community.

Although each of the GOW counties are afflicted with the same problem – the increase in overdoses and deaths due to heroin and opiates – independently, there are gaps in services and help for both addicts and their families. However, collectively, the Task Force can help fill those gaps.

In an effort to find where each county is lacking and how to get funding for the resources it needs, the Task Force determined three areas to address: community education and action, data compilation and access to care.

Community education and action

Three goals were created to better educate the public:

    • Educate students, parents and community about the dangers of heroin and opioid use – Narcan training and education, sharps and medicine disposal sites, and develop materials for distribution;

    • Identify resources and local partnerships to help prevent use – pharmacies, law enforcement, recovery services, and mental health service; and

    • Develop recommendations for future goals and action steps to prevent use – encourage attendance and participation in Task Force meetings, recovery coaching, peer speakers, and more.


Part of the requirements for applying for State funding is to have the data and statistics to back up the need. However, compiling those numbers becomes a collaborative effort between multiple agencies. Additionally, the task is further hindered by the fact that the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s (ME) Office handles cases from its own and the GOW counties. Subsequently, toxicology reports are often not received back for six months or more.

According to a recent report, the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office has performed 1,020 autopsies in 2016. In 2015 it was closer to 900. In 2008 approximately 975 were performed and in 2005 860. The years 2012 and 2013 both showed approximately 880.

The goals of this group are to develop a tool to track data, identify the data each county already has, and perform a gap analysis to identify missing data and create a plan to overcome any barrier.

Access to care

Again, a barrier addicts and family members face is access to care in relative proximity to where they live.

Officials say when an addict is ready to get the help they need to begin the recovery process, there is an immediacy to their need.

One of the goals of this group is to map out the access to care in the Western Region Naturally Occurring Care Network (NOCN).

The NOCNs include the Finger Lakes, Monroe, Southeastern, Southern, and Western regions of New York State.

In addition to finding a place to receive care, the group also identified eight groups of potential entry points for families and individuals in crisis. They include hospital emergency rooms, crisis hot line, primary care physicians, law enforcement, community-based organizations, healthcare homes, community-based groups, and schools and colleges.

Nationwide, every 17 minutes someone dies from an opioid overdose. About two years ago, there were 100 deaths in Erie County. In 2015, it more than doubled. In 2016, that number could reach over 500. That’s about 10 per week. February alone recorded 23 overdose deaths in just one week.

In Wyoming County, between 2010 and 2014 the number of opioid-related emergency department admissions increased 47.6 percent – 42 and 62. The number of opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions rose from 61 to 91 respectively – a 49.2-percent increase. 

According to a recent article in The Batavian (the sister site of the Wyoming County Free Press), there were five deaths in Genesee County that the Monroe County Medical Examiner attributed to the overuse of opiate-related drugs in 2013.

In 2016, 17 deaths with toxicology completed were attributed to drug mixtures that included opiates, with four toxicology reports for last year still pending.

To date in 2017, there are seven deaths where toxicology is still pending.

Of the 17 known OD-related deaths in 2016, only five were attributed to heroin mixed with other drugs, whether prescription drugs and/or over-the-counter medications. (Note: the ME for 2016 was Erie County.)

There were nine deaths caused by a combination of prescription opiates mixed with other drugs.

There was one death caused by "acute and chronic substance abuse."

Of the 18 overdose deaths in 2015, 14 involved prescription opiates used in combination with other drugs and two were caused by heroin used in combination with other drugs.

In 2014, there were 12 drug-induced deaths. Nine of the 12 involved prescription opiates combined with other drugs. Heroin, used singularly or in combination with other drugs, contributed to three deaths. 

Between 2010 and 2014 those who were admitted for treatment for any opioid in Western New York was 7,679 in 2010. By 2014, the number of people seeking treatment rose by almost a third – 10,154 – a 32-percent increase.

Across the state, those in treatment for heroin use was 55,900 in 2010; in 2014, the number was 77,647. Deaths across the state due to heroin overdose increased 163 percent (215 in 2008, and 637 in 2013) and opioid overdoses increased 30 percent (763 to 952).

While nearby counties like Erie and Monroe have access to more mental health services and rehabilitation centers due to their populations, Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties struggle to find those same services closer to home for their residents.

The next meeting date and time for GOW Opioid Task Force to be determined.

For more information, Kristine Voos at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 3:48 pm

Press release:

The New York Senate has approved a bill that strengthens Kendra’s Law and makes its provisions permanent. The bill (S516) enhances public safety, improves the quality and effectiveness of care provided to the mentally ill, and prevents Kendra’s Law from expiring on June 30.

“By strengthening and improving Kendra’s Law, we can help prevent people suffering from profound mental illness from doing harm to themselves or others,” said Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma), cosponsor of the bill. “The legislation has been successful in preventing violence and ensuring that patients receive the treatment they need. Now it’s time to make the law permanent.”

Kendra’s Law was first enacted in 1999 after 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia. At that time, the man was roaming New York City streets. The law allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for individuals who will not voluntarily seek help but are a safety threat.

Since the law was enacted, studies have found that patients given mandatory outpatient treatment were four times less likely to perpetrate serious violence after undergoing AOT. The study included those who were more violent to begin with than other members of a control group. The studies also found less frequent psychiatric hospitalizations, shorter hospital stays, reductions in the likelihood of arrest, higher social functioning, less stigma, and no increase in perceived coercion.

The law is designed to prevent serious harm to the mentally ill person or others, but gaps exist in the current system that must be fixed to make it more effective. The measure would not only make Kendra’s Law permanent, but includes several provisions to enhance the current system of AOT.

Provisions include:

    • requiring follow-up on those who move during the AOT period to ensure that they receive their treatment;
    • requiring an evaluation for AOT when mental health patients are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration so that people needing services do not fall through the cracks;
    • requiring counties to notify the Office of Mental Health (OMH) when an assisted outpatient is missing and thereby unavailable for an evaluation as to whether he or she continues to meet AOT criteria; and
    • requiring the commissioner of OMH to develop an educational pamphlet on the AOT process of petitioning so that family members have information on how to file a report.

The bill has been sent to the Assembly.

Monday, March 27, 2017 at 6:03 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, announcements, government, mental health.


Press release (photo submitted):

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma) and Assemblyman Michael Kearns (D, West Seneca) are urging fellow lawmakers to prevent the Office of Mental Health from closing the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca and moving young patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. Gallivan and Kearns say the move would jeopardize child and adolescent care and safety. They want to resolve the four-year-old debate as part of the current state budget negotiations.    

“The Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca (WNYCPC) is rated among the best in the nation in the treatment of children and teens in need of behavioral health services,” Gallivan said. “I don’t understand why the Office of Mental Health (OMH) insists on fixing something that is not broken. While the merger may save money, there appears to be no clinical reason to move these children to an adult facility and it isn’t fair to patients or their families.” 

Two recent attacks involving patients at the Buffalo facility have also raised concerns about safety.

“Hearing reports of a nurse at Buffalo Psychiatric Center being attacked is disturbing, especially as the governor and Office of Mental Health Commissioner Ann Sullivan continue to push to move the children at WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center in with the adults at Buffalo Psychiatric Center,” Kearns said.

“Why should we trust that the children from the Western New York Children Psychiatric Center will be safe at this facility, when employees at Buffalo Psychiatric Center aren’t even being kept safe? The evidence against this proposal to move these young, vulnerable patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center continues to mount and I urge Governor Cuomo, for the safety and well-being of these children, to put an end to this merger.”

Both Gallivan and Kearns have introduced legislation, which would require the OMH to maintain the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center as a separate and distinct entity both organizationally and physically. Meanwhile, the Senate one house budget resolution and the Assembly one house budget resolution also include language that would keep the West Seneca facility open.

Over the past several years, former patients, family members of patients, workers, community activists and academics have pushed to keep the WNYCPC open. They argue the tranquil surrounding provided at the West Seneca campus is important for the children who are undergoing significant mental trauma and the families desperately trying to protect these children from danger.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 at 6:56 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, announcements, mental health.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma) has introduced legislation which would require the New York State Office of Mental Health to maintain the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center (WNYCPC) as a separate and distinct entity both organizationally and physically. The legislation would prevent it from being merged with any other facility.  

The legislation (S4630) will amend the mental hygiene law and is the latest effort by Gallivan to stop plans by the Office of Mental Health from closing the West Seneca facility and transferring adolescent patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. 

“We have repeatedly asked the Office of Mental Health to reconsider its plans to merge the Children’s Psychiatric Center with the Buffalo Psychiatric Center,” Gallivan said. “The West Seneca facility is rated among the best in the nation in the treatment of children and teens in need of behavioral health services.

"The proposal to move these vulnerable children into the same facility as adults is not based on clinical science and will jeopardize their treatment. While the proposed merger may save money, it simply is not fair to patients or their families.”   

Assemblyman Michael Kearns (D, West Seneca) will introduce similar legislation in the Assembly. 

“For several years senators Gallivan, Robert G. Ortt, the Western New York (WNY) delegation and I have asked the Office of Mental Health and Governor (Andrew) Cuomo to stop the merging of the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center with Buffalo Psychiatric Center,” Kearns said.

“For some unexplained reason, they continue to move forward with this action, despite WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center rating the best of its kind in the state. Medical evidence clearly shows, when it comes to mental health, children need to be separate from adults to receive the best care.

"Since the Office of Mental Health and governor seem to be ignoring these facts, and the pleas from patients, parents and the community to keep the facility open in West Seneca, I’m proud to introduce and advocate for this legislation in the Assembly.”

Ortt, (R-C-I, North Tonawanda) Chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, is cosponsoring the legislation. 

"We have listened to countless former patients, families, employees and mental health professionals,” Ortt said. “Each group has expressed grave concerns over the potential implications that such a merger of children into an adult setting will have on these vulnerable children as well as the precedent it will set for the future.

"Our foremost concern remains the children facing severe emotional, psychological, and physical trauma who have experienced negative adult behaviors. And it simply does not make sense to move forward with this merger."  

In January, Gallivan sent a letter to the governor urging him to keep the facility open. A bipartisan group of senators and assemblymen from across WNY and the Finger Lakes region signed the letter in support.   

Over the past several years, former patients, family members of patients, workers, community activists, and academics have pushed to keep the WNYCPC open. They argue the tranquil surrounding provided at the West Seneca campus is important for the children who are undergoing significant mental trauma and the families desperately trying to protect these children from danger.

Monday, November 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, government, mental health, Sen. Gallivan.



Press release, photos submitted.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma) and Assemblyman Michael Kearns (D, West Seneca) joined members of the Western New York (WNY) State Legislature Delegation in calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to keep the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center at its current location in West Seneca. Despite bipartisan objections from members of the WNY delegation and families served by the center, the OMH is moving ahead with its plans to close the facility and transfer adolescent patients to the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.   

Gallivan and Kearns have learned the state is prepared to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to move forward with its relocation plans. The legislators are urging residents to call the OMH and the governor’s office to voice opposition to the project.

"Efforts by the Office of Mental Health to close this center and move these patients to an adult oriented facility like the Buffalo Psychiatric Center make no sense,” Gallivan said. “I have worked with families of patients, mental health experts and others who believe such a move will jeopardize the mental health and well being of children who receive care at the West Seneca location. These adolescent patients deserve and require special treatment in an environment that allows them and their families to feel safe and comfortable.”

The Buffalo Psychiatric Center stopped treating children more than 40 years ago when doctors determined that adolescents have specific and special needs when it comes to mental health treatment. That is why the WNY Children’s Psychiatric Center was built. The West Seneca facility opened in 1970 and serves patients from at least 17 New York counties, including Wyoming County. 

“It is not a difficult decision to permanently keep this facility in West Seneca,” Kearns said. “On virtually every metric this institution excels and exceeds other similar institutions in New York State. WNYCPC has the lowest 30 and 90 day readmission rates in all of New York State. This is important from a long-term cost perspective because readmissions for mental health case over the course of a lifetime can result in many thousands of dollars for the treatment of a single person. The savings to New York State are long term and real. Not keeping the facility in this setting is pennywise and pound foolish, because it overlooks the long-term savings and the input and voices of those treated by the state and surroundings.”  

During a 2015 public hearing on the proposed move, parents, former patients, family members of patients, workers, community activists and academics spoke out against plans presented by the OMH. Many said the tranquil surrounding provided at the West Seneca campus is important for the children who are undergoing significant mental trauma and the families desperately trying to protect these children from danger.

Support for keeping the West Seneca facility open is strong among members of the WNY delegation and other local officials.

“Western New York Children’s campus is a tranquil environment where children receive the individualized, wrap-around services required to treat complicated adolescent challenges,” said Sen. Rob Ortt, chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health. “Buffalo Psychiatric Center is an entirely separate institution – in its layout and its mission – so we are alarmed over the prospect of comingling children with an adult population. Our foremost concern is, and must remain, children facing severe emotional, psychological, and physical trauma. I will continue to fight alongside my state colleagues in support of keeping these vulnerable children where they belong – in a safe environment surrounded by their peers and out of an adult psychiatric facility.”   

“To say we are disappointed, frustrated and extremely concerned with the unfortunate planning that is underway would be an understatement,” said West Seneca Supervisor Sheila Meegan. “Time and time again Albany officials continue to make decisions that impact Western New York without truly understanding the impact it will have on so many families. The timing of this RFP couldn’t have been more insensitive.”

Friday, September 23, 2016 at 2:57 pm

Trying to answer the question of why one commits suicide is akin to answering “How deep is deep?" It's fathomless to gauge, impossible to know with certainty.

At 5 p.m. Sept. 29, the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition will hold their 10th annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk. Each September, the coalition organizes and hosts a walk in downtown Warsaw for National Suicide Prevention Month. This year’s walk will begin and end at the Warsaw Vet’s Club Pavilion, 245 W. Buffalo St.. 

Thoughts or feelings of suicide can come “out of nowhere,” a result of a treatable mental health issue, or be caused by a traumatic event. Survivors of sexual assault are four times more likely to consider suicide, and an average of 22 veterans die by suicide every day. People who face discrimination for being lesbian, gay or bisexual have statistically amplified rates of suicide ideation, and transgender teens have an average attempt rate of 50 percent. Suicide is estimated as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, and the third leading cause of death for those 15-24 years old.

Wyoming County has the highest rate of completed suicides per capita in New York State, according to the 2008-11 Census Bureau data.

Suicide can be a despairing topic because of its finality. Once someone dies by suicide, all that remains are the grieving friends, family and community, plagued by a sense of emptiness that many feel will never be whole again. Although there is no one solution, the single most effective way to combat suicide is to work preemptively through proactive prevention.

Formed in 2006, the coalition’s mission is to reduce the number of suicides in the county. Their hope is that by spreading the mission of promoting awareness of the problem, educating the community on warning signs, and where to go for help, people contemplating their own demise may seek help.

“When someone is feeling suicidal or overwhelmed with what’s going on..when they are exploring that option (suicide), they aren’t always thinking rationally,” said Lauren Berger, outreach education specialist for RESTORE. “But being connected with an email list or counselor...they often make the choice to reach out. Someone may be able to help them de-escalate the situation. The real powerful message is that they are not alone.”

RESTORE Sexual Assault Services is program of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. It leads the community response to sexual violence through advocacy and education. Providing safety, support and validation, it changes the lives of those affected by sexual assault. Trained counselors are available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to provide information and support.

Prevention officials say, stripping away the antiquated shame associated with those suffering with a mental illness is just one step toward opening up honest and frank dialogue about a difficult topic. 

“The Siri voice command on a phone... If you say to it you are ‘feeling suicidal’ it will offer a number to call. When Siri first came out and you said anything with the word “suicide” in it, it would offer other suggestions. It was only recently that Siri changed its answer.

“Even using the autocorrect function on a phone,” Berger said. “If suicide is not spelled exactly as it should be, it offers different words. Even the phone doesn't want to talk about it. 

“There is a myth that if you talk about it you will be encouraging someone to do it. People who have these thoughts wouldn't be encouraged. But when you're not afraid to shy away from theses words it makes it more open for discussion. It drives home the seriousness of the actual act and opens up a dialogue.”

People typically shy aware from the topic of suicide, or mental illness of any sort, because some people don’t want to admit they have a problem. Open discussion on mental illness may make it easier for those who need to reach out, be able to reach out. They may not feel so isolated; get rid of the feeling that there’s no where to turn because “we don’t talk about it.”

“One in five people struggle with mental illness, but social perceptions weren’t created overnight. Overcoming them will not be an immediate process. Historically, things were done in an inhumane way.”

There is a whole package when dealing with health; not just physical, but emotional and mental health as well. Just like you need the proper nutrients and exercise for your physical body to function well, having the tools to cope with emotional and mental stress is huge.

“Statistically, how much is counted when dealing with overdoses or accidents that may have been semi-intentional? The risk of suicide is higher for middle-aged, retired men. They could be facing hardships from the Ag industry; many are factory workers; they are nearing retirement age and feeling less productive. There are so many reasons. But there is also a greater chance of someone completing the task in a rural area because they may have more access to the means (firearms).”

The second highest age range for completed suicides in Wyoming County is 72 and older. 

While there may be greater mental health resources available in a more urban area, Wyoming County is not without its assets:

    • Suicide Prevention Coalition has a website and Facebook page;

    • A crisis line is available: National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255);

    • Wyoming County Community Hospital Behavioral Health Center

    • Wyoming County Mental Health Department

    • Project Semicolon Campaign

    • Suicide Prevention App

    • Mobile Integration Team (MIT); and 

    • 2-1-1 helpline.

“How to help? Know what's going on in the community, share information about suicide, do the  22 push-up challenge – 22 push-ups for 22 days to raise awareness about veteran suicides... Become part of a coalition, and go from there.

“We want people to have the safety and security to ask, ‘Are you OK?’; for those suffering to have the courage to ask for help. If you are connected and want to talk to a counselor, the resources are readily available. You may have the experience (talking with a counselor) that it’s not awful...but beneficial.”

It could be anyone, anywhere that can help save a person's life, just by being aware. While you may never see the impact – of a smile, a kind word or gesture – know that your kindness may have forestalled a suicide. 

“We live in a world where people are so consumed in their own lives. But when the step of kindness is taken... You'd be surprised at the impact it can have.”

And it’s free; free to be kind.

There will be a free chicken barbecue dinner after the walk, from Decisions Catering, sponsored by Spectrum Human Services and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Dinners will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

The county first established a task force for suicide prevention in 2006, which quickly grew and became the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition, comprised of community members, survivors of suicide, and human service professionals. The coalition meets at 11 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Hillside Children’s Center, West Buffalo Street, Warsaw. More information is available at

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 10:57 am
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, events, Warsaw, mental health.
Event Date and Time: 
June 2, 2016 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

In this powerfully heartfelt, hope and recovery focused seminar, Eric Weaver discusses openly how his life was riddled with personal struggles and trials, stress, depression, self-destructive and suicidal behavior. He provides a real-life,’ no-nonsense’ approach to the issues of mental health, mental illness, symptoms of stress and depression, stigmas, communication skills, recovery, suicide awareness and prevention.

The event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Wyoming County Department of Social Services, 466 N. Main St., Warsaw.

Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 1:16 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, health, mental health, Warsaw.

There's a continuum of mental health and we are all somewhere on this continuum. 

Let's say you grew up in a healthy family and life has been smooth – healthy genetics, haven't inherited any illnesses – and a curveball comes at you at a young age. You can be slapped back a bit, but because of where you are on that continuum, you handle the ball and make the play. Mental health has its ups and downs just like physical health. It's no different. It's all connected. 

At a recent Wyoming County Board of Supervisors meeting, May was proclaimed as Mental Health Awareness Month. The proclamation states in part:

Each business, school, government agency, healthcare provider, organization, and citizen shares the burden of mental illness and has a responsibility to promote mental wellness and support prevention efforts...

“When someone believes they are a whole person, secure in knowing their strengths and limitations, they have good mental health,” said Wyoming County Mental Health Department Director of Community Service Nancy Balbick. “When they feel like a worthwhile human being and feel grounded, are secure and safe, have good self esteem and self image, and their personal interactions are for the greatest good for themselves and others...That’s what I believe to be good mental health.

“The greatest good doesn't mean with just people, but the whole of the world and looking toward the future with the vision of the future for the greatest good.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, someone who had a traumatic childhood may be someone who doesn't trust human relationships. The person may harbor feelings of hurt and abandonment, which in turn could cause chaos in their environment. That would be in conflict with their living circumstances.

Someone who is healthy mentally would have good boundaries. Being okay with both their strengths and limits and move about in their world in a proactive, instead of reactive, manner. 

“You know your own moral codes and who you are,” Balbick said. “When life throws you a curveball, because you are grounded you can handle that curveball in a healthy way.”

Mental health is a state of well-being, with a positive attitude filled with hope and the future,” said Wyoming County Community Health System (WCCHS) Director of Mental Health Mary Richards.

According to mental health professionals, when people see people who are odd it makes them uncomfortable.Yet, mental health issues are manifested behaviorally. Years ago, if someone said they heard voices they would be put in asylums, people didn’t know how to handle that behavior.

“They talk about a man named Roy who grew up in Rolling Hills (Asylum, East Bethany),” Balbick said. “As the story goes, Roy had giantism, because it was partially shameful at that time and there were no resources to understand his condition, he was sent to the asylum. It was the same for an aunt of mine who had cerebral palsy. There were no resources to help people with disabilities and nobody really knew how to handle those who were disabled. Even in this day and age, we are uncomfortable with people who are different or who have a handicap. It’s a developed condition – being uncomfortable.”

Mental health issues impact a family. They can break families apart, but can also shape them.

“Some of our lucky patients have very supportive families who understand their illness and are very supportive,” Richards said. “Others are unable to deal with the behaviors that sometimes are destructive of the loved ones. It’s not that they don’t care for them; they just can’t deal with what is going on with them at the time. The goal is always to reunite and resolve issues.”

Historically, those who have mental illnesses have also been victims of society. However, as the understanding of mental health issues grew, some practices became no longer acceptable, for example lobotomies and trepanation.

Trepanation is thought to be one of the earliest treatments for the mentally ill. It involved using a tool to create a hole in the skull. People were given this treatment because it was thought that insanity or mental illness was caused by demons, thus creating the hole would allow the demons to escape.

By the mid-1900s, medications began to be developed and helped to address some mental illnesses.

“With the inception of medication the public became aware that mental health issues can be treated and there is hope for recovery,” Richards said.

However, even with the advent of medication, there are still many barriers to getting treatment. While some are perceived, others are more obvious. Personal beliefs and the sense of failure will often keep someone from getting help. Some people may isolate themselves due to how they think society sees them. Transportation is often a barrier and insurance companies don’t make it easy for individuals suffering from mental illness or substance abuse to get help. Even with services provided by Spectrum, ARA, the MIT (Mobile Integration Team), and the hospital for those in crisis, there is a shortage in psychiatrists throughout the state.   

“About 50 percent of those diagnosed with a mental illness also struggle with substance abuse,” Richards said. “It’s important to note that not everyone who suffers from mental illness also suffers from substance abuse, however, addictions will often undermine the treatment of mental illness.”  

As progress is made in integrated care, the understanding of how the two diseases interact with each other is becoming clearer. It is hard to tease out what comes first, the mental illness or the substance abuse. Oftentimes, the substance abuse is a result of an individual self-medicating their mental illness. They may think the alcohol or drugs are slowing down their racing thoughts or voices, if they are hearing voices. On the other hand, substance abuse could be the precipitator of mental illness. The current movement of integrated care aims to procure a better understanding of how to treat co-occurring disorders.  

“Addiction will certainly impact someone’s mental health and well being. Addictions have significant impact on individual’s lives, relationships, family, ability to hold jobs and their independence,” Richards said. “Many individuals end up in the legal system (because they are) trying to support their addiction.”

In the recent Community Health Assessment, Wyoming County Department of Health Public Health Administrator Laura Paolucci notes the two priority areas in the county: promote mental health and prevent substance abuse, and prevent chronic disease.

“The first thing we did was to try and understand what systems of care there are in the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and then align mental health and substance abuse,” Paolucci said. “In many cases, substandard health and mental health go hand in hand and the person afflicted often has poor physical health as well. It’s a complicated system of care.”

The OMH and OASAS (Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services) stand separately. In order to get information and resources available to county residents, the health departments of Wyoming, Genesee and Orleans counties made a data repository on the Western New York 2-1-1 Web site. Calling 2-1-1 is a free, confidential, 24/7 phone referral and information helpline and the Web site connects people to health and human services in the area including inpatient and outpatient mental health services.

“Treatment is tough. Physical addition is powerful. Support to move through post-addiction is imperative to keep the energy moving forward,” Paolucci said.

“There are many barriers to identifying and treating mental illness. I believe knowledge is power. Understanding mental illness and how to get help is essential. Understanding and believing that recovery is possible for everyone,” Richards said. “People with mental illness are some of the bravest people I know. They struggle every day with different aspects of their illness. Increased societal awareness and understanding of the impact of the illness will break down the barriers to treat those in need.”

Part of the initiative Paolucci and the Steering Committee are working on is finding out what programs are not in the three counties and working toward making them available for residents. The committee ensures sustainable funding for substance abuse and mental health services.

“Nobody begins their day saying to themselves ‘I'm going to overdose today.’ With more treatment and such available and accessible, why not give them a chance?” Paolucci said. 

“Everyone is at risk to develop a mental illness,” Balbick said. “However, men and women recognize and manifest depression differently. It’s not identified as easily with men as it is with women because of that difference.” 

Like the other aspects of ourselves we have to take care of mental health and understand that it is an important component in life. According to mental health professionals, if someone has a mental health disorder and it is left untreated it can get out of control and has the potential to escalate.

“What is 'normal'? That’s a good question,” Richards said. “For me, normal is very subjective and different for everyone. It is also judged by everyone as to what they perceive to be ‘normal.’ ”

As Charles Addams once said, “Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider, is chaos for the fly.”

For more information on services available visit

Wednesday, October 14, 2015 at 4:13 pm
posted by Billie Owens in wyoming foundation, Perry, healthcare, mental health.

Press release:

Today the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, in partnership with the Wyoming Foundation, hosted the 2015 Wyoming County Health Care Forum in Perry and announced that a psychiatric partial-hospitalization program was selected as the new funding priority for the 2016 William F. Thiel grant cycle.

Today’s Forum brought together Wyoming County residents, community leaders and health care professionals to learn more about the county’s health needs. Through presentations and facilitated dialogue, the Forum also reported on the latest results from the Wyoming County Health Needs Assessment which include: health services; enabling health services; and infrastructure.

The Forum is made possible by the generosity and foresight of longtime Wyoming County philanthropist, William F. Thiel. In 1974, Mr. Thiel left a significant legacy to the county through the creation of the William F. Thiel Fund held at the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo to benefit the health needs of Wyoming County residents.

Since 2006, three Wyoming County Health Care Forums have been held and more than $2 million has been granted to Wyoming County organizations.

Also supported by the William F. Thiel Fund is the Wyoming County Health Needs Assessment, which was originally commissioned by the Community Foundation in 2006. The Needs Assessment was created by rural health care network consultant, Gregory Bonk of HMS Associates and identifies strategic priorities in honor of Mr. Thiel’s request of improving health outcomes for Wyoming County residents.

For this year’s process, a psychiatric partial-hospitalization program was identified as the new funding priority in 2016 by the Wyoming County Health Roundtable. The psychiatric partial-hospitalization program offers outpatient mental health services to patients as an alternative to inpatient mental health care.

“Mental health care is significantly important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood,” Bonk said. “It is also important to note that mental health problems are common and that help is available. This new funding priority will help to provide access to residents of Wyoming County that suffer from mental health issues and can help aid in the recovery process.”

Wyoming County residents were also encouraged to participate in a survey to help select a special project in conjunction with the new funding priority to increase mental health capacity for the 2016 William F. Thiel Fund grant cycle. The special project is to be determined at the Forum along with input from more than 190 survey participants.

In an effort to further connect with the needs of the Wyoming County community, the Wyoming Foundation took an active role in 2014 with the leadership work of the William F. Thiel Fund. Armed with information from the Health Needs Assessments and the historically significant Community Needs Forum held in 2012, the leadership team of the Wyoming Foundation is continuously working to explore newly identified community health needs.

“The Wyoming Foundation is committed to strengthening the quality of life in the county by encouraging charitable giving, assessing and responding to the community’s changing needs, and serving as a springboard for local charitable activities,” said Wyoming Foundation Chair, Scott Gardner. “This includes the health needs of the community as well. This commitment has helped us become the champion for the county’s residents on what really matters to them.”

It is estimated that one in three Wyoming County residents have benefited as a result of Mr. Thiel’s generosity and the Community Foundation’s approach to honoring his legacy.

“Since 1919, the Community Foundation has worked tirelessly on behalf of our clients who have asked the Foundation to manage their charitable assets and carry on their legacy according to their wishes, forever,” said Community Foundation President/CEO, Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker. “Thanks to Mr. Thiel’s generosity, more than 10,000 residents have been impacted by his commitment to Wyoming County.”

The William F. Thiel grant cycle opens annually in mid-November. For more information on the William F. Thiel granting process, please visit

About Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, a 501(c)(3) organization, was established in 1919 to enhance and encourage long-term philanthropy in the Western New York community. The Community Foundation’s mission is: Connecting people, ideas and resources to improve lives in Western New York. For 96 years the Community Foundation has made the most of the generosity of individuals, families, foundations and organizations who entrust charitable assets to the Community Foundation’s care.

About the Wyoming Foundation

The Wyoming Foundation was established in 1974 and is a division of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The Wyoming Foundation actively supports a wide variety of cultural, educational and human services organizations in Wyoming County. For more information about the Wyoming Foundation, please visit

Monday, September 14, 2015 at 6:53 pm
posted by Julia Ferrini in Wyoming County, mental health, Warsaw, suicide.

Hope -- a word filled with various implications. It can express a wish or desire, but quite possibly, it can also express a need – a need for understanding; a need to feel that something is good; and it lies just around the corner.

Wyoming County has the highest rate of completed suicides per capita in New York State, according to the 2008-11 Census Bureau data.

“A group of us said we needed to do something and we started this coalition,” Brandie Rajk-Winter said. “We have about 15 members that attend regularly. Some are professionals in the human services field; some are community members that have been touched by suicide; and some just believe in the mission to help people.”

Rajk-Winter is not only the dual recovery coordinator with the Wyoming County Mental Health Department, she is also a chairperson for the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Formed in 2006, the coalition’s mission is to reduce the number of suicides in the county. Their hope is that by spreading the mission of promoting awareness of the problem, educating the community on warning signs, and where to go for help, people contemplating their own demise may seek help.

“Sometimes people don’t really know where to go unless they need it,” Rajk-Winter said. “And when you’re in a crisis, you don’t really have that time to think through where to go. Chances are likely that we may know someone who has been affected by suicide in this county because it is so small.”

There are many factors that play into the high rate of completed suicides in the county: it’s rural; some areas are very isolated; transportation – people can’t get to the help they need; it has a high population of hunters, so the access to the means is often there; there is a high population of farmers with high stress; and Western New York has long, harsh winters. While these may not be exact reasons, they could be contributing factors, Rajk-Winter said.

“Middle-age men, between 45 and 65 years old, have the highest age range of completed suicides in the county,” Rajk-Winter said. “Three years ago we developed a program called the Cup of Joe Project, specifically designed to reach men within that age group.”

The project works with restaurants within the county. For two weeks during the month of October information about suicide prevention and where to get help are dispersed with a cup of coffee. Customers receive a free cup of coffee with a coupon that details information and resources.

“We asked the question ‘How do we reach middle-aged men?' They aren’t prone to talk about how they feel and are often unwilling to go the the doctor or go talk with somebody about how they are feeling,” Rajk-Winter said. “So in 2012, we came up with Cup of Joe."

“You’ll often see men already in their groups in restaurants talking anyway,” Rajk-Winter said. “So when they are in their groups and someone is not seeming themselves or don’t show up to their regular gathering as usual, the other men may be more apt to reach out and say, ‘Hey, how are things going?’ ”

To reach their target audience, the coalition relies on the restaurants regular customers. The guys are already there and they are using that gathering as a captive audience to get the information out there. It’s discrete. It’s not an “in your face” kind of approach. It’s simply a little piece of paper handed out with their coffee with information of where one can go to get help.

The second highest age range for completed suicides in Wyoming County, is 72 and older. 

The goal of the coalition is to equate mental health with physical health. According to Rajk-Winter, everyone has to keep mentally fit AND physically healthy. 

“We tend to think of a negative connotation with mental health,” Rajk-Winter said. “Just as we take care of our bodies, we also need to take care of our minds and mental wellness; if we neglect that, that’s where we see it spilling over into our life domain. That’s when the pain can exceed the resources that a person has, and that sometimes leads to suicide as an option.”

According to Rajk-Winter, for decades at least, when people think of mental health, they think of mental illness, yet they are working toward redirecting mental health as equal to physical health. Life gets stressful. Life’s grief and loss and stress sometime seem overwhelming. People need time to regroup and learn how to deal with things differently. 

The coalition wants to combat the thought of “There’s something wrong with me if I have to seek out mental help,” which led to their motto: HELP – when Hope Evolves Life Prevails. Good mental health can mean understanding your own coping strategies; what you can do in a stressful situation.

“Exercising, reading, deep breathing, relaxation, talking to a friend or professional,” Rajk-Winter said. “These are all ways to cope with stress. It’s keeping ourselves in check and doing a self-check inventory of how you are doing. Are you feeling a bit more depressed because of an illness or something. It’s just being more aware of ourselves. Be more aware of how you see, and react, to any type of situation. It’s just being more aware.”

According to Rajk-Winter, cognitive behavior therapy can help someone strive for good mental health; to get them out of the suicidal thought process. Therapy can teach a person that there are other options of getting through the pain, there are resources out there – family, friends, peers, or even social groups.

There are some situations where there are warning signs, Rajk-Winter said. However, it’s not something that is obvious. The signs can be subtle shifts in mood or behavior, or maybe you get a gut instinct that something is just not quite right.

“Those are the times when you want to ask ‘Is everything alright?’ ” Rajk-Winter said. “It may not be a warning sign of suicide, but it’s a warning sign that something is going on. If that’s the case, that’s where we want to push out our resources more. It can be a case of ‘You seem out of sorts lately, you seem to be isolating yourself a lot more, here’s some information if you want to talk to someone. Here’s where you could go or who you could call.’ ”

Suicide does not discriminate. What a person says and does is much more important than how a person looks. Most people who contemplate suicide have communicated their distress or plans to at least one other person. While the communications may not always be direct, awareness is key to identifying a cry for help. Holding frank and open conversations about suicide may offer the freedom to confide ones pain to others. Problems that may not seem like a big deal to one person, may be causing a great deal of distress for a person contemplating suicide. Perceived crises are just as concerning and predictive of suicidal behavior.

“If you notice someone falling into that depression, you could just say ‘Hey, mind if I check in with you tomorrow? There is hope. I could talk with you about that,’ ” Rajk-Winter said. “That’s the thing, the feeling of hopelessness is a warning sign, too. If the person feels hopeless, we want them to hear that there are helpful people out there. It doesn’t have to be by a professional; every case is so different.”

While the coalition knows they cannot save everyone, educating the community is the most important factor. They want to ensure that people know there is help and that oftentimes suicide can be prevented.

“You can only do the best that you can for someone,” Rajk-Winter said. “We want people to know that they can move forward and things can get better. It’s trying to help someone see past their pain.”

The Suicide Prevention Coalition meets from 11 a.m. to noon, on the first Tuesday of the month at the Hillside office on West Buffalo Street, Warsaw. For more information visit

Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 2:35 pm

On Thursday, Sept. 10, at 5:30 p.m. the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition will begin its 9th annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk.

Each September, the Coalition organizes and hosts a Walk in downtown Warsaw for National Suicide Prevention Month. Last year, 56 were in attendance despite the cold and rainy weather. This year’s walk will begin and end at the Warsaw Vet’s Club Pavilion (245 West Buffalo Street in Warsaw).

There will be a free chicken barbeque dinner from Decisions Catering, sponsored by Spectrum Human Services and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Dinners will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Suicide is estimated as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, and Wyoming County has had the highest per capita rate in the state for many years. The county first established a task force for suicide prevention in 2006, which quickly grew and became the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition, comprised of dedicated community members, survivors of suicide, and human service professionals. The Coalition meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 11 a.m. at the Hillside Children’s Center on West Buffalo Street in Warsaw.

More information is available at

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Subscribe to



Copyright © 2008-2016 The Batavian. Some Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy | Terms of Service
Original content available for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons license.
Contact: Howard Owens, publisher (howard (at) the batavian dot com); (585) 250-4118

blue button