‘Stay connected,’ advises Buffalo mental health adviser to those shaken by mass shootings | Local News
Prior to last week, Malene White’s mental health counseling sessions were much the same as those taking place almost everywhere else.
She has spoken with clients about the challenges they faced growing up, the difficulties in their daily lives, and the choices they made that added to their burden.
But trying to help process the torrent of emotions that accompanies a racially motivated mass shooting in their town felt like a crushing burden on White and his clients.
“Once you start counseling and change some things, you see a glimpse of hope,” White said last week. “Then things change so drastically by a negative event. People are worried. ‘What do we do now? What do we think now?’
The most important step, she told them, is to speak honestly with family, friends, colleagues and others, even if you’re not sure what to say.
“What’s scary is when there’s no dialogue,” she said. “My message is to talk, to communicate, to stay close, connected to each other.”
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White grew up and still lives on the East Side. She has worked in healthcare for two decades, the last five years as a licensed mental health counselor specializing in trauma and trauma care.
Many of her clients are black, but she serves people of different races, colors and creeds at the Spectrum Health and Human Services Downtown Buffalo counseling center.
White also leads a grief and support group on Monday afternoons at the Buffalo City Mission and has spent part of the past week helping provide free trauma counseling at the Johnnie B. Wiley Resource Center, four blocks from the Tops supermarket where a self-proclaimed racist killed 10 black people on May 14.
“We have a crisis of racism, a crisis of gun violence, but also a crisis of lack of services, including a lack of access to mental health care,” said Dr. Joseph Sellers, who grew up in Buffalo. and is president of the New York State Medical Society.
The shooting shook even his most optimistic clients, who worked hard to change their situation.
“It’s ‘I’m hurt. I’m broke. And I don’t know if anybody’s going to hurt me,” White said. “It’s different than it was a week ago. Now we’re not talking about coping We’re talking about fear. We’re talking about where you can go shopping. We talk about how you can navigate the community. People talk about trying to leave the neighborhood. We’ve backslid a bit. »
Many of White’s clients are poor, so more typical counseling conversations involve how to navigate bus routes on a limited income, continue their education, find and keep a job, and pay for childcare and healthy food. Some have abused alcohol and other drugs that offer only fleeting comfort in their unpredictable lives. Others have been diagnosed with mental illness and need help navigating the healthcare system and continuing to take their medications.
For some, the challenges have been intergenerational.
It’s harder to process new trauma when you’re already carrying a load, White said.
“This heavy, mass slaughter-like murder” challenged many, she said, especially black people, including those who have got by without guidance so far.
“I hear about intrusive thinking. I hear about nightmares. I hear negative comments, I avoid people, places and bad memories. I see a lot of tears. They felt like they were under attack for many, many years because of their ancestry – and now they feel under attack in 2022.”
White spoke with double the number of those who typically attend the bereavement group session at the City Mission.
“Notice that the people I work with in both places are a mixed pool,” she said. “The conversation was, ‘Just acknowledge that the person standing next to you is also in a strange place. Every white person is not here to kill me. It was an isolated incident, a terrible, terrible act by one person. We talked about loving each other and continuing to love each other, and not letting that create the anger, frustration, and division that it was supposed to create.
Conversations at the mission, and elsewhere, ended in hugs, handshakes and a stronger desire to move on.
White’s overall message remained the same. Be good to yourself and those around you.
“I always talk about self-care,” she said. “I always talk about the next trip. What can we do? What are the coping skills for dealing with life’s difficulties? We will enter the prevalence of services, trying to manage emotions, knowing that they want to do better.
It meant a lot last week to White, his customers and their neighbors as those in the area, and beyond, supported efforts to provide more food to people who had lost their only full-service supermarket.
It was also important, she said, that the Erie County Department of Mental Health collaborated to provide free, confidential counseling with Spectrum Health, Crisis Services, Endeavor Health Services and BestSelf Behavioral Health.
This support continues from 1-9 p.m. through Friday at the Wiley Center, 1100 Jefferson Ave. ; there’s no paperwork to fill out and there’s also a resource room for kids to get help with. Everyone is welcome. Several people came from outside the neighborhood, said Cherie Messore, spokeswoman for Spectrum Health.
White was also among those who took part in a webinar for business owners on Friday who asked for more advice on how to talk about the mass shooting with employees and customers, and gain their support, if necessary.
The message is familiar in counseling: avoid distractions that make you carry an increasingly heavy load of problems.
“I talk to people about dealing with their feelings and their emotions, not running away from them, having those conversations with family and others,” White said. “If we’re isolated from them, they’ll come into your sleep. You’re not going to want to eat. You’re not going to want to go to work. You will find yourself in a place where you will not be able to cope with life.
Now is the time to prioritize what’s important, she told her clients. Eat healthier, exercise more and listen to soft music. Volunteer to help your community and your country. “Sit a moment longer” often. Rub your feet before going to bed.
If someone can’t talk with a loved one or needs more encouragement, talk to a counselor.
“It’s important to be able to ride the wave, to be able to engage in a safe place for conversation,” she said.
White began to worry last week that anger would reign in her workplace and her community. Relief set in when she heard echoes of what she recommends in counseling coming from church and community leaders, as well as President Biden and the First Lady during their visit to Buffalo. Spontaneous rallies and organized vigils continued to affirm hope that the city and region will see better days.
She knows it won’t be easy, telling of a client who cried so much at the end of her counseling session on Thursday that White handed her several tissues.
“She whispered in my ear and said she was sorry, she felt so guilty and her people were so wrong,” White said. “She asked what she could do. She was a white woman. I just hugged her and said, ‘Do what you’re doing now. Just help me help you. Stay connected.’ ”
Erie County Warmline: Free confidential crisis-free phone line, 716-248-2941, and text line 716-392-2221, for people who have difficulty coping with life experiences. Open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Erie County 24-Hour Crisis Hotline: Counselors are available to speak with those in need at 716-834-3131.
211 WNY: visit 211wny.org or call 211 anytime in the area for a free, confidential link to health and social services, including community resources for many health, social, mental health, addictions and developmental disability services.
The National Alliance for Mental Health Helpline: 716-226-6264, namibuffalony.org
Mental Health Advocates of WNY: Regional resource for mental health support, 716-886-1242, mhawny.org.
Suicide Prevention: Anyone considering self-harm can call the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.