The Mental Health Association of Erie County, Inc., a founding member of the coalition, recently announced it has changed its name to Mental Health Advocates of Western New York (MHA).

From its inception in 1962, the agency has provided a comprehensive array of programs and services to individuals and families living with mental illness through advocacy, treatment linkage and outreach services. Over the years, MHA has increasingly taken a leadership role in the community in matters of behavioral health education, mental health awareness and promotion of issues surrounding mental illness. Most recently, the agency has renewed and expanded its focus on prevention and early detection/intervention and actively promoting mental health and wellness in the region. MHA programs now reach into all eight counties of Western New York – and beyond – providing services to tens of thousands of children, adults and organizations every year. Learn more

What is the most important message Mental Health Advocates of WNY (MHA) has for people who are dealing with mental illness?

There is hope and you are not alone.

What is the most important message Mental Health Advocates of WNY has for people who are supporting individuals with mental illness?

When you or a family member is struggling with a mental illness, it can be hard to know where to turn. There is hope and many services in our community to help. If you are looking for answers, MHA can help navigate the mental health care system and offer links to treatment and other support services.

Does Mental Health Advocates of WNY offer programs in our community?

We offer a variety of programs. BEST (Basic Emotional Skills Training) is a classroom-based program to help students PreK – Grade 2. We offer pro bono civil legal services for those with a mental health diagnosis to include Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income, housing, family, consumer and matrimonial matters. Our Child and Family Support Program (CFSP) is a family and youth peer-run program that helps families navigate the healthcare system and offers a variety of support programs, advocacy and respite for caregivers of children ages 4-17 years of age. Youth peer advocates facilitate one-on-one and group support for teens and young adults. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) advocates speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children involved in child welfare proceedings. Our Information & Referral Services phone line links people in need with appropriate community resources and services. Operation COM (Children of the Military) supports children of the military and their families. Additionally, we work with the business community with a program called Mindset, a collection of innovative programs to help organizations create mentally healthy workplace cultures and employees. And we have a public awareness campaign, JustTellOne.org that focuses on prevention and early intervention for depression, suicide, alcohol abuse and drug abuse aimed at young people ages 14-26.

What are the most positive changes that have happened in our community re mental illness?

One is a willingness to talk more openly about mental illness. Another is putting programs in place that focus on prevention and early intervention designed to foster good mental health and wellness for both children and adults. The earlier we can reach people, the better the outcome.

What are the most important issues we still face?

The U.S. spent $221 billion on mental illness in 2014, making it the single-most expensive medical condition. While the financial cost is great, the human cost in incalculable. With physical health, we’ve seen a shift toward incentivizing and rewarding wellness. We need to make a similar shift with mental health, promoting prevention and early intervention, better work/life balance, managing stress and limiting technology use (such as cell phones which is proving to have adverse affects on both young people and adults). Until we put the health back in mental health these trends will continue to spiral out of control.

Why did Mental Health Advocates of WNY get involved in the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition?

No one agency can do it all. We need to end stigma. We need to end the silence and the shame. By joining together, we become part of the solution. By encouraging others to share their stories, we save lives.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We recently changed our name from Mental Health Association of Erie County to Mental Health Advocates of WNY (MHA). Since 1962, advocacy has been at the core of what we do. Our mission is to promote mental health and wellness in our community and support individuals and families challenged by mental illness. Through awareness, education, prevention, early intervention programs and supportive services, we advocate for and actively promote mental health and wellness for adults, families and children in homes, schools and workplaces across Western New York. MHA is here to listen and we are here to help.