Child’s Diagnosis Leads to Joining Mental Health Association Board

Rebecca Wydysh

Rebecca Wydysh

By Rebecca Wydysh, President of the Board of Directors at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County.

People often ask me why I decided to join the MHA Board of Directors.  I don’t work in the mental health field, or any medical field, for that matter. My interest is much more personal and first hand…

In 2008, my daughter was your average third grader.  She had lots of friends, received great grades and all her teachers said she was “a pleasure to have in class”.  Virtually out of nowhere, things changed. She started adamantly and ferociously refusing to go to school, with no real reason or explanation.  She simply DID NOT and WOULD NOT go!   And there was no making her…she would act out emotionally and physically, to the point it would have been dangerous for her (and me), if forced.

While the school staff was extremely supportive, and tried to help in any way they could, it was clear there was no real program in place to help us.  We were given several suggestions and even ended up staying overnight at a hospital emergency wing, where we were ultimately told “good luck” and released.  We spent several frustrating days contacting our own doctors, insurance company, friends and family, just trying to get her the immediate help she needed.  Many counselors had a wait of several weeks or a month just to get a first appointment.  We felt alone and useless to help our daughter.

After several months of counseling attempts, a diagnosis of “Generalized Anxiety and School Refusal”, in-patient treatment, and home schooling, she was finally able to return to class.  Most of this might have been avoided if we had just had a better support system and treatment plan from the start. It was a difficult few years of ups and downs, but I’m happy to say that she has grown so much (in age and wisdom) and now has very little trouble going to school every day.

During our journey, I saw just how frustrating it can be to navigate the mental health system, especially where children are concerned, and I wish I had known more about the MHA and the programs we offer.  I had just started my position as Deputy Commissioner of Jurors in Niagara County with the New York State Unified Court System and was lucky to have very supportive employers and co-workers.  I cannot imagine how much more difficult, or even impossible, it would be for a parent dealing with their own mental health diagnosis during that type of crisis.

It was shortly after this experience, in 2009, that I was invited to join the Board of Directors.   I joined without hesitation, in the hope of helping in any way that I can, big or small, to support other children in our community to receive the care they need, while also supporting the parents that love them. 

I am honored to be the current Board President at MHA in Niagara Counyt, and will do all I can to raise awareness for the organization and further the crucial programs our staff works so hard every day to develop and expand.  ◊

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Niagara County Community Services Directory Now Updated


The Mental Health Association (MHA) in Niagara County, Inc., is now distributing the 28th edition of the Help Book, a pocket-sized phone directory of Community Services created specifically for residents of Niagara County.

First published by the MHA in 1981, the Help Book is part of a larger Information and Referral Program in Niagara County. In addition to the printed edition, which is available for a small fee of 25 cents, the MHA also offers a free online version and a 24/7 phone referral system called the Help Line. The online directory can be found on the MHA website  while the Help Line offers live assistance at 716-433-5432. Staff members from the MHA answer calls during office hours while Crisis Services of Niagara County handles the calls after hours.

For convenience, the listings in the Help Book are organized into over 25 categories such as Emergency Phone Numbers, Children/Youth, Counseling, Employment, Family, Food, Legal Issues, Post Offices, Senior Citizens and Veterans, to name a few. Website links are also provided when available.

MHA believes that the Help Book and Help Line are more important than ever, even though national services like 2-1-1 have tried to compete. The Help Book is updated regularly by people who live and work in the community. Employees of MHA regularly attend community meetings and gather the latest  local information, even before it is generally available to the public. A call to the Help Line gives you the inside scoop!

If you would like a copy of the Help Book 28th edition, please call us at 716-433-3780. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Can you let us know how you find information for Niagara County? Please take a moment to answer our poll! Thank you.

The DSM-5 arrives in cloud of controversy

By Steve Ferguson,  Director of Consumer Activities


Dr. Richard Friedman recently wrote an article in the NY Times  giving his view on the new 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to DSM-5.  The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and it provides set criteria for the classification of mental disorders.

As science progresses and evolves, it is common sense to go back and revise earlier criteria amid new evidence.  However, there has been little ground-breaking new evidence since the publication of the 4th edition (DSM-4).  Many psychiatrists feel the release of DSM-5 is premature and potentially dangerous to those with a mental health diagnosis and also those who are seeking help for the first time.

In the article Dr. Friedman gives an example of how DSM-5 could be potentially dangerous and unethical.  DSM-4 clearly differentiates normal/expected grief a person suffers from after a loss (ex: death of a loved one or good friend) from severe clinical depression.  However, the new DSM-5 encourages clinicians to diagnose major depression in parents who are grieving the loss of a child only after two weeks of mild depressive symptoms.   This is dangerous for the devastated parents who will be prescribed medications they may not need. Basically, it shows a rush to medicate when perhaps the parents should have time to work with a grief counselor to start the healing process.

This rush to prescribe anti-depressants without proper therapeutic treatment is an ongoing problem because it mislabels healthy people with a psychiatric diagnosis, although it does benefit pharmaceutical corporations with an increase in sales of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

However, keeping all that in mind, I believe that DSM has been a valuable tool for psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, therapists, and many other practitioners.   One of its important benefits is that it can still provide a common language for clinicians to use in order to discuss and treat mental illnesses. While the latest edition of DSM comes with its share of issues and limitations, perhaps it can still be a useful tool when used with caution. And like anything that is in the realm of science, the DSM will continue to evolve and progress as new evidence and truths regarding mental disorders are unveiled.

(The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Inc.)


Your input is important to us! We would like to know your thoughts about this important Mental Health issue. Please feel free to use the contact form below. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page.


MHA in Niagara County

(716) 433-3780


Help for Hoarders

A Book Review of The Secret Lives of Hoarders (2011), by Matt Paxton with Phaedra Hise, published by Penguin.  Matt Paxton is an Organizing Expert on A&E’s show, Hoarders.

2011 Book by Matt Paxton, Organizing Expert on A&E's Hoarders

As a young man, Matt Paxton cleaned houses. After he had cleaned houses for several hoarders, he was surprised at what he learned about them: hoarders don’t love the way they live.  In actuality, hoarders are good people struggling with difficult issues.  They need love and understanding as well as help to recover.

Years later, the author now specializes in working with hoarders. His book, The Secret Lives of Hoarders: True Stories of Tackling Extreme Clutter,  is filled with true stories.

As I read this fascinating book, what struck me is the difference between “collectors” and “hoarders”.   For hoarders, the piles of stuff are in every room, not just in one messy place.  The whole house is full. More than just a nuisance, clutter gets to the point where it actually interferes with the activities of daily living. While it is easy to judge people who live with such a mess, it must be realized that hoarding is not a character flaw, nor does it result from mere laziness or forgetfulness. Hoarding is a mental disorder.

The Secret Lives of Hoarders is much more than stories and photographs of stuffed houses: it’s a look at a hidden epidemic.  Paxton offers insight, compassion and support by revealing what hoarding is,  how to recognize it before it gets out of hand, and how to deal with it. I strongly recommend it.

Book Review by Linda Stevens, Director of Compeer Niagara at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County. 

Grief Share Support Groups in Niagara County

Written by Maggie Campbell and Jan Mauk

GriefMost of us understand that, within our lifetimes, we will experience the death of a loved one. When we do, we will learn some painful lessons about grief and loss. Although we may realize that grief is a normal reaction to loss, we may be surprised at the intensity of the uncomfortable emotions that we feel. Grief can leave us feeling overwhelmed as we struggle with the finality of the loss of a person we treasured. We may experience genuine pain and emptiness. Our lives may become disrupted and unsettled. Because we may find it difficult to talk about grief’s effects, the Mental Health Association in Niagara County conducts grief support groups twice a month in both Niagara Falls and Lockport.  Originally formed for those whose loved ones have died in sudden, traumatic ways, the Grief Share support group meetings are now open to all who are grieving.

 Led by licensed mental health professionals trained in both grief and psychological trauma, the groups are all about “the stories.” Participants report that being able to tell their “grief stories” without being judged helps them cope with the sadness, loneliness, longing and other emotions that accompany grief.  In the words of participants: “People in this group ‘get it.’ They know what I’m going through, because they’re going through the same thing.” “It gives me someone to talk to. I found I could breathe again.” “This is one of the only places where I talk about it (grief) anymore because I still need to. I can say things here I wouldn’t say other places. “The stories may be different, but they all come down to the same thing – loss.

With loss being the common denominator in these groups, participants learn what works for others while grieving.  Over time they also become aware of what works for them — how to reduce the stress of grief, how to find comfort and support during the grieving process, how to adjust to a changed life.  They have a chance to talk about their grief and to listen to others.  “It helps me cope. I can hear how others cope.” “There is no pity here,” but there is understanding, compassion, and acceptance.  Group members learn what’s normal about grief and come away feeling relieved. In the words of a participant: “It’s nice to know I’m not crazy!”

Grief Share groups are ongoing, free of charge, and always have a mix of “newcomers” and “veteran” grievers who support and inspire each other. There’s a time for tears but also a time for laughter. People remain in the group as long as necessary and leave when they are ready, which is different for each individual. Group members are encouraged to talk freely about their grief, which seems to help. Sharing the pain seems to lighten the load. All discussions are confidential: “What is said in the group stays in the group.” One group member said, “We’re free to say whatever.”

What do people get out of participating in a support group? The participants answer: “It’s the day I set aside for remembering my son. It’s important to the grief process.” “I came to support a friend of mine and discovered that I have grief issues, too.” “It decreases stress.” “I can laugh and cry a lot.” “I feel safe and secure.”  “It still hurts but not as bad.” “No one prepares us for grief. This group gives me hope.” “I feel embraced by the group. I feel loved.”

If you or someone you know has experienced a loss by death, you are invited to attend one of the Grief Share groups. Meetings are held as follows:

For more information about these and other support groups we offer, please call 716-433-3780 or visit

Step Up So Others Don’t Get Stepped On

Contributor: DOUG LUKE, MHA Board Member

Every day thousands of children wake up and are afraid to go to school. Not because they haven’t completed their homework, nor are they nervous to take a test, but because they are fearful of bullying.

Bullying has become one of the leading concerns within schools in Niagara County. Bullying can lead to poor grades, school violence and teen suicide.

Bullying occurs when a person is picked on repeatedly by an individual or group perceived with more power; either in terms of physical strength or social status. It is the on-going harassment from one peer to another resulting in mental, physical and/or psychological pain. Bullying can be physical or verbal. Boys tend to use more physical elements when bullying and girls tend to be more verbal. Bullying can occur anywhere; on the bus, in the neighborhood, before or after school, in the cafeteria or hallway, or on a computer (Cyber bullying).

Bullying can range from hitting, shoving, name-calling, and threats to mocking others. It also can involve extorting money and prized possessions. Some kids bully by shunning others and spreading rumors about them.

Bullies choose their victims for two main reasons – appearance and social status. Bullies pick on the people they think don’t fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act, their race or religion, their size, or their sexual orientation.

Kids bully for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they pick on kids because they need a victim — someone who seems emotionally or physically weaker, or just acts or appears different in some way — to feel more important, popular, or in control. Although some bullies are bigger or stronger than their victims, this is not always the case.

A bully likes attention and appears confident with high self esteem, when actually they are most likely extremely insecure. They may be physically aggressive, pro-violence, easily angered and impulsive. A bully likes to dominate and have power over people. Bullies are more likely to dislike others, perform poorly academically, instigate fights, and are more prone to be problematic in school.

A recent study showed that boys who are school bullies in grades six through nine had at least one criminal conviction by age 24.

Anyone can be a victim of bullying. As a parent or educator, there are warning signs to look for:

  • Sudden downward change in a child’s school performance
  • A sudden change in friendship groups
  • School absenteeism
  • The loss of school or personal items (more so than normal)
  • Unexplained bruises or torn clothing that occurs during school hours

If you suspect a child is a victim of bullying, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication and contact school officials.

It may be tempting to tell the child to fight back; however, it’s important to advise children not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. This improper form of retaliation can quickly escalate into violence, trouble, and someone getting hurt. Instead, it’s best to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell an adult.

Encourage children to:

  • Try to always avoid the bully and use the “buddy” system.
  • Control his/her anger – walk away from the presence of a bully.
  • Tell an adult, albeit a parent, teacher or school administrator.
  • Share openly with others. Tell someone you trust, such as a counselor, teacher, parent, or friend.

Strong partnerships between schools, the Mental Health Association of Niagara County, and parents are the key to stopping bullying. Together we must STEP UP SO OTHERS DON’T GET STEPPED ON.