ERIE CO., N.Y. - Michael Ranney, the Commissioner of Mental Health in Erie County, admits the new Children's Mental Health Clinic of WNY in Niagara Falls is encouraging, "That is excellent because new resources opening up is always very positive."
"We have long recognized that there are serious mental health needs that kids, and families as well, have in the county," New Directions Youth & Family Services CEO, Jim Coder told 2 On Your Side at the ribbon cutting. "We hear a lot about bullying in schools and in other locations and situations that kids are in. It also includes kids who have adjustment disorders and anxiety disorders and just really having trouble coping."
The new clinic will provide walk-in care, or same day appointments, to anyone between the ages of five and 21 who might need the assistance of a counselor or psychiatrist in Niagara County.
Erie County boasts a number of similar mental health resources and facilities. There are even mental health clinics in 59 Buffalo schools.
But, Ranney says there is a major problem.
While there are counselors and social workers at these locations ready to provide immediate care there is a shortage of psychiatrists, particularly for youth.
"As it relates to children," adds Commissioner Ranney, "very often, some of those waits can take up to two to three months before you get your first appointment with a psychiatrist."
Ranney says the challenge is not only finding good psychiatrists but also keeping them employed locally.
State and local mental health agencies are working on solutions. They're offering incentives such as continuing education credits and student loan forgiveness.
SUNY's psychiatric university staff is offering their expertise and support to pediatricians. All the physicians need to do is call. The program is funded through the New York State Office of Mental Health.
State and county agencies are also exploring tele-psychiatry...doctors, counselors or social workers setting up video conferencing with the patient and psychiatrists to facilitate the diagnosis of mental illnesses. They say this could also be an option for people who live a considerable distance from mental health clinics.
However all of these solutions cost money. Commissioner Ranney says the extent of what they can implement is dependent on mental health funding the state gets from the federal government.