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How can we address a mental health care worker shortage in WNY?

The deeper issue it causes for communities of color
More therapists are opening their doors, but more people need help
Posted at 6:30 PM, Dec 05, 2022

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The pandemic really highlighted the importance of mental health in our community and now more doors are opening for anyone who needs help. The problem is, those doors aren't opening fast enough.

"There's always going be a need for mental health services, but still once we open, we're booked," said Erin M. Moss, Licensed Mental Health Therapist.

The number of mental health providers has gone up in each state, according to Mental Health America. More people are asking for help, but the need for mental health care is outpacing the number of providers who enter the workforce each year.

"It's so busy and it's not just here in Buffalo, it's everywhere," said Moss.

This makes it tough to find help when you need it. Moss says it's even tougher for communities of color, since there aren't many Black and Brown providers in WNY. So if Moss is booked, there aren't many other options.

Therapists stress the importance of representation in counseling
Therapists stress the importance of representation in counseling

"It's hard to find someone that you can relate to. Once you get the courage to say, 'I want to come in, I want help" but how do you find someone who knows what I've been through?" said Moss.

It's something that's grown more important in light of the Tops Mass Shooting, which Dr. James Thompson says he's still seeing the impacts of.

"There aren't enough faces that look like mine in psychiatry or medicine at large," said Thompson, a fourth year psychiatry resident working at ECMC.

Just 2% of psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists are Black, according to the American Psychological Association. 5% of the workforce is Hispanic and 5% Asian.

How can we fix this?

Money is a big issue.

"Mental health has always been woefully under funded so that translates into lower wages, longer hours large case loads," said Jane Mogavero, Executive Director at the Patrick Lee Foundation.

The foundation is hoping to provide a solution, putting half of their funding toward mental health, giving out 25 scholarships to lighten the load for WNY graduate students entering a mental health field.

"And remove those financial constraints knowing they're going into a career that will probably pay lower wages than some other professions," said Mogavero.

It's a scholarship that helped Dr. Thompson at UB's Jacobs School of Medicine, but he will still finish his residency having to pay of debt.

"We need to compensate therapists, we need to celebrate therapists, we need to encourage them to go into this type of field," said Moss.

For Moss, it's about making sure therapists are supported and opening doors for young students who have a passion for helping others; Dr. Thompson agrees.

"It has to start early, with early childhood education. I think people need to be able to see themselves in the doctors in the community," said Dr. Thompson.

Resources

For more information on the Patrick Lee Foundation, click here.

Help is always available if you are struggling with a mental health issue. You can call crisis services in Erie county at 834-3131 -- or in Niagara county at 285-3515. You can also call the national hotline at 988.

For more information on Erin M. Moss's practice, click here.