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Another Voice: Shortage of professionals hurts mental health care

By Jane Mogavero

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines a mental illness as a medical condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. It permeates all races, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The statistics on mental illnesses are staggering:

• One in five American adults has a diagnosable mental illness.

• One half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by age 14.

• The average delay between onset of symptoms and treatment is 10 years.

• Serious mental illnesses cost the United States $193 billion in lost earnings.

Despite its prevalence and the far-reaching impact of mental illness, serious challenges, such as stigma and affordability of care, remain for individuals in need of treatment. Last year 60 percent of Americans with mental health conditions did not receive care.

Here in Western New York, one of the factors significantly impacting access to care is the shortage of mental health professionals – specifically psychiatrists and psychologists. The region has been designated by the federal government as a mental health professional shortage area. While there is considerable need in the rural communities, the lack of practitioners extends as well to Buffalo and other urban areas.

Mental illness is a community issue that requires community solutions. The Patrick P. Lee Foundation recognizes this and has selected mental health as one of its two primary areas of investment. The Lee Foundation partners with mental health providers, educational institutions, community advocates and fellow funders to ensure the Western New York community is well-informed about mental health, inclusive of individuals with mental illness and served by high quality, accessible mental health services.

The Lee Foundation recognizes that it is critical to recruit and retain psychiatrists and psychologists to meet the mental health needs of the region. Through its educational partners, it is creating scholarships for a variety of mental health careers.

And at the present time, the Lee Foundation already funds scholarships for fourth-year medical students who are interested in psychiatry and committed to working in Western New York.

While the long-term goal is to increase the number of mental health professionals, it is imperative that the capacity of mental health providers be enhanced and those already dedicating themselves to working in the mental health field be supported.

To that end, the Lee Foundation will be providing free professional development opportunities and training in innovative treatment techniques.

The good news is that there is hope and recovery is possible. With proper treatment and support, individuals living with mental health challenges can lead productive, fulfilling lives.

To learn more about mental health conditions and how you can make a difference, visit letstalkstigma.org.

Jane Mogavero, Esq., is executive director of the Patrick P. Lee Foundation in Buffalo.

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