Long-time Staffer Sees Big Challenges in Mental Health Field

By Betty Intihar, Front Office Assistant at the Mental Health Association in Niagara CountyImage

Hello, my name is Betty Intihar and I have been an employee of the MHA for 28 years. The Compeer Niagara program had just begun in Niagara County and I was the first person hired. Now I work at the front desk of our office on 36 Pine Street, Lockport, answering calls and helping anyone who comes by. If you call our Help Line, you may just get me!

Over the years, I have seen many good things happen in the mental health field: positive, new medications; more advocacy for mental health services; more peer-led support groups; better hospital advocates; and many new programs that enrich the lives of our clients. I have even seen some promising models for mental health services, such as the clubhouse model. A clubhouse would offer consumers a safe place to be with friends and enjoy some coffee and conversation. Sadly, that approach ended several years ago and no real replacement has been found. But we try to do what we can through our Help Line, and will often spend a few minutes talking to someone who just needs a friendly voice.

Many other challenges remain. With state money drying up, many mental health programs have had to close, let go valued workers, or offer fewer services.  Many organizations now operate with fewer social workers, and those that remain must handle a larger client load. Also, hospital mental health units for adults and children are being closed, leaving families in Niagara County with limited options.

There are also challenges in the areas of housing and transportation. In housing, I have found that there are many landlords who take advantage of clients. Affordable, safe housing is a rare find, and often what is available is old and unsafe.  As for transportation, that has remained a problem for all the years I have been in this field. For example, limited bus schedules between Lockport and Niagara Falls can mean traveling all morning for a 30-minute afternoon appointment. This kind of time commitment can require missing an entire day of work, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

The MHA is now entering its 50th year and I am proud to say I have been here for about two-thirds of it! I have enjoyed my work and the staff I have worked with over the years. The work we do for our clients and families is very important, and the dedication from our staff is outstanding. If you have never utilized any of our services, which include a wonderful resource library and free informational brochures, I invite you to come visit us. Most people don’t know who we are until they need us. Why not see what we have to offer? We are here for you!  ◊