Spotlight: A Q&A with WNYHeroes, Inc.

Jul 30, 2020

If mental health was black and white, it would be easily identified.

The mission of WNYHeroes is to provide veterans, members of the armed services, and the widows and children of deceased veterans with access to essential services, financial assistance and resources that support their lives and sustain their dignity.

Many veterans experience mental health challenges, yet stigma often prevents them from seeking help.

We recently spoke with Chris Kreiger Sr., Iraq war veteran and president and co-founder of WNYHeroes, Inc.

Q: Why did your organization become a member of The Anti-Stigma coalition?

We reached out to your Coalition with high interest to become a member because we have a lot to offer, especially when dealing with Veterans. People who suffer from mental health issues are too often looked at as scary or very different from others. This forces them to hide what is going on with them for fear of losing their circle of friends or loved ones. Many people fear what they don’t understand. People can see a broken bone and don’t perceive it as a personal weakness or character flaw. The same can’t always be said of people’s judgment of those living mental health issues that can’t be seen, and might be harder to relate to. It is the job of everyone in our community to change that. Only through education and self- awareness can a change for the better begin to happen. With our programs, we strive to change the stigma of PTSD. What is PTSD? Many people look at it as being crazy or out of your mind. In actuality, PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. To go one further, we strive to drop the “D” (Disorder) What makes PTS a disorder? The trauma an individual experiences doesn’t always make it a disorder.

Q: How are people with mental health challenges impacted by stigma?

Stigma is going to be a constant challenge. Take the homeless Veteran, the second you hear homeless and Veteran together, people think of the individual pushing a shopping cart full of garbage, long grown out hair & beard. This stereotype leads to stigma. What does a person with mental health truly look like? They look no different than you or me. If mental health was black and white, it would be easily identified. There are so many different mental health illnesses, each with its’ own unique characteristics. For many, a given mental health illness begins to show signs around the age of 12-14 years.

Q: What impact is the Campaign having in the community?

The impact the campaign is having in our community is significant. We feel our community is starting to take a different approach with those who are impacted by mental illness. We must keep in mind that not only those with the actual illness are affected, but the family and friends of those around them are also affected. Here at WNYHeroes we combat those same challenges, making a difference through our Peer to Peer & Pawsitive for Heroes service dog program when dealing with Veterans.