A University at Buffalo student who completed suicide as he and his family struggled to get adequate help for his schizophrenia inspired the region’s first Mental Health Awareness Informational Fair and Flash Mob.
"He ended up in a group home the night before he died, had some issues and asked to stay, but the staff told him he had to go. Within five minutes, he jumped off a parking ramp," said Michelle Scheib, who launched the event, which will mark its sixth annual installment from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday at the Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square.
Scheib, 40, who lives the Old First Ward, is director of peer services with the Restoration Society. The nonprofit group provides housing, employment and social supports for those with mental illness and substance use disorders. The society is hosting the event with support from BestSelf Behavioral Health, Mental Health Peer Connection, the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System.
Lackawanna native Jonathan D. Ramos inspired the event, she said. He was a would-be engineer and UB football player diagnosed with schizophrenia after his freshman year. He died in August 2012, at age 22. Afterward, his family started the Colorful Minds Foundation (facebook.com/pg/endingthestigma), which provides scholarship money to aspiring UB mental health counselors.
Services, as well as public understanding of mental illness, has improved in the region since the first flash mob in 2013 – yet much work remains, Scheib said. An estimated one in five Americans experiences a mental illness each year, and one in four is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during his or her lifetime.
Q: What will this year's event be like?
A: Dennis George, the Quizmaster, is coming. He'll be the emcee. Carolyn Zimmerman will do a drumming circle in the library about 10 a.m. Chris Warden will talk about dating about 11 or so. We also have SowFit Buffalo Sports and Fitness. They'll teach the flash mob piece and lead it at noon outside, along Washington Street. We'll have about 30 tables inside the library with information. People are encouraged to wear green because lime green is the color for mental health awareness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Our goal is to do this event the first Thursday of May every year.
Q: You are a peer who has been challenged by anxiety. What would you like people to know about mental health challenges?
A: My family and boyfriend are my support. Just because you have a mental health diagnosis doesn't mean you can't live a successful life. You can interact with others in the community and see that you can date, that you can have a job, that you can have a life. You're able to do many successful things. People can have schizophrenia and be CEO of a company. Maria Carey and the Rock just came out (about their mental health challenges), so I feel more and more of the mental health stigma is being taken away.
Q: What's the best way to reach out for help if someone, or a loved one, is struggling with a mental illness?
A: There's always Crisis Services (716-834-3131). Restoration – in collaboration with Peer Connection and Housing Options Made Easy – just opened up Renewal Center. It's kind of like a respite, a place for people to drop in, a peer-to-peer program at our 327 Elm St. location. Someone who's going through a crisis but doesn't want to go to CPEP can go and talk to somebody one-on-one and get the services there. They have a fireplace. It's really pretty. It's on our website under one of our programs. It's open 3 to 11 seven days a week. It's a place where somebody can get dropped off.
Sometimes, people go to CPEP because there's no place else to go. They don't really need to go to CPEP and be sitting there for a day. Instead, they might only need an hour or two to get away, do what they need to do.
There are a lot of good services in Buffalo and it's sad that half the people don't know a lot of the services out there.
Q: Why is it important that they do?
A: It helps you overall lead a happy life, not let you dwell or rethink things, not be able to move on. There's more to life than sitting in your house isolating yourself from others. A lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol because they can't cope with stuff in life. There are better ways.
Q: Any success stories you want to share about some of the attendees who've successfully address their illnesses?
A: A lot of peers that started coming to the event six years ago are working full time at one of the peer mentor agencies, advocating for others and helping. I also see as a benefit now that Medicaid will reimburse for peer services so you can go to your doctor and ask for them. There's definitely hope that there are things you can learn – and build on.