Grief, Loss, and Stigma One Year After May 14th

May 1, 2023

This past year, Western New Yorkers have experienced extraordinary loss, grief, and trauma, especially the Black community and East Buffalo community.

Traumatic events include the horrific tragedy of May 14th, the death of a beloved pediatrician and his daughters in a fire, a deadly December blizzard, the East Buffalo fire that took the lives of five children (and later their grandmother), and the shocking on-field collapse of Damar Hamlin.

“Many people in our community were hanging on by a thread, even before May 14,” said Melissa Archer, PMHNP-BC, BSN, Chief Operating Officer, Buffalo Urban League.

“Community conversations about mental health are happening and while we don’t see a complete 180 degree concerning stigma, the needle is moving,” she said. “One of the most important considerations is making sure that we have providers who look like the people they are serving.”

Archer said that there has been a concerted effort to heal our community.

There are still issues with stigma because of the varied ways it presents itself in communities of color, including the belief that having a mental health condition is a sign of weakness. This misconception is deep-rooted and produces significant issues for those who sincerely want to seek help.

Karl Shallowhorn, Director of Youth Programs

Mental Health Advocates of WNY

Buffalo Hope, operated by the Buffalo Urban League and a new behavioral health clinic operated by BestSelf Behavioral Health, both located on Jefferson Avenue, are striving to provide mental health care in a manner that helps people to understand that it’s okay to seek help, and professionals providing care at these sites can relate to the community’s trauma.

The Buffalo United Resiliency Center was also created to offer a place of healing and support to individuals and their families impacted by this horrific mass shooting, providing a person-centered, trauma-informed care and a holistic approach tailored to each person’s experience.

The Anti-Stigma Coalition hosts a Facebook Live on Wednesday, May 17 at noon for a discussion about these issues and how to access mental health resources.

The moderator is Karl Shallowhorn, director of youth programs, Mental Health Advocates of WNY, the event is free and open to the public and viewers will have the opportunity to ask questions during the event.

According to Archer of the Urban League, the community goal is to move from surviving to thriving. “Take whatever steps you need to talk to someone. It’s hard and painful to move out of your comfort zone, but it can help you to become the best version of yourself,” she said.

Archer says that peer counselors can be effective for individuals struggling with mental health issues as well as taking the time for self-care.

Mark O’Brien, Erie County Mental Health Commissioner, says the remembrance of the May 14th shooting is a reminder of the devastation that we experience when we lose a loved one suddenly and tragically.

“Compounding that loss is the realization that it was unnecessary as it was caused by the actions of an individual fed by the toxic ideology of others,” O’Brien said. “All deaths are sad, not all are tragic. These losses and their impact on loved ones were both. Knowing that the community targeted has long felt under- resourced and marginalized compounds the trauma for all affected. When reaching out for help is stigmatized or not accepted in a community, the mountain becomes higher.”

According to O’Brien, there has been an outpouring of support and assistance from Federal, State and County government entities as well as community, providers, foundations and faith-based communities to help those individuals affected in ways that are meaningful and helpful.

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