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Genesee County Mental Health

Mental health course for law enforcement opportunity to 'transform crisis response'

By Joanne Beck
GC Sheriff's mental health grad
Genesee County Sheriff's Investigator and co-instructor David Moore, left, and Mental Health Director and co-instructor Lynda Battaglia, far right, flank graduates of the New York State Crisis Intervention Team Training, Chad Cummings, Kyle Krzemien, Jenna Ferrando and Robert Henning upon completion of the course Friday at Genesee Community College.
Photo by Joanne Beck

Sheriff’s deputies encounter a lot of different scenarios when out on patrol, and after a weeklong training on various mental health issues, several of them will be more versed to handle crisis intervention training in this area as well, county Mental Health Director Lynda Battaglia says.

Battaglia and co-facilitator David Moore, an investigator with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, wrapped up the 40-hour course with eight graduates Friday at Genesee Community College. 

“It’s a co-instructor, co-facilitated course taught by law enforcement and mental health to really bring the disciplines together. We know that law enforcement responds quite frequently to individuals that are in crisis — emotional crisis, or they have mental health concerns -- and law enforcement needs to be prepared on how to, you know, appropriately respond and assist the individual with the help that they need,” Battaglia said. “We do scenario-based training, we do a lot of education on mental health. We talk about Alzheimer's, we talk about developmental disabilities, we talk about substance use, adolescents, juveniles -- we bring in family members and consumers or individuals who are in recovery. We brought in community resources this week. And it was a great opportunity to connect law enforcement with mental health so that they know that we are here for them, and vice versa.”

The course had been offered some years ago, and more recently, police agencies have been sending their employees to similar training in other counties, Moore said. He and Battaglia just completed an instructor’s course to be able to offer it here, and they plan to do so regularly for the Sheriff’s Office, and Batavia and Le Roy police departments.

“And it's been, I think, a really great experience for our people too, because it's been tough to almost establish and build that relationship with our mental health professionals in the area. And I think that this was a great opportunity to educate them on exactly what resources we have available,” Moore said. “And in doing so, I mean, putting faces with law enforcement and mental health in this area, and actually being able to come together and work together to provide that better experience and a higher level of care for the residents in Genesee County. So, I think that this has been fantastic for our guys, and I look forward to continuing to do that for other members in this county too. 

“So ultimately, we are public servants. We do have to provide a service to Genesee County residents, and as work professionals, we need to be held to that standard. So I think this is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

Battaglia added that it’s an opportunity to “really transform” the county’s crisis response system. Law enforcement may go out on a call, and mental health responds with some additional assistance to law enforcement and the community “so that they have a well-rounded approach when somebody calls in distress,” she said.

For example, if deputies go out for someone who seems a bit incoherent or disoriented and is a little lost, “then you know, part of this training is to equip law enforcement with slowing things down and remembering you’re working with everybody, so this could be somebody with Alzheimer’s and how do you approach that using the appropriate tools and skill set to handle the situation,” Battaglia said. 

The course not only went into specifics, but there was also a section about what is mental illness, and the variety of different factors involved, she said. 

“You could have a mental illness and substance use addiction as well as medical problems,” she said. “So, that's a lot for one person to handle. So you know, equipping law enforcement with the tools on how to respond appropriately to somebody who has a whole host of issues and concerns that they need help with just better equips police.” 

What did the class members walk away with? Sergeant Kyle Krzemien has learned a lot from prior training and being on the job, but he did pick up a valuable reminder when dealing with folks he sees who are typically going through some type of crisis.

“Whether it's small or big, it's really big to them. And just finding a way to slow down and just have a conversation with people and be a good listener, tends to help people out,” he said. “So just slowing down and being a good listener and finding ways to deal with certain types of disorders that people have. There's ways to … talk to people with schizophrenia and stuff like that.” 

GC Sheriff's mental health grads 2
Genesee County Sheriff's Investigator and co-instructor David Moore, left, and graduates Wesley Rissinger, Kevin DeFelice, Joshua Girvin and Daniel Wendling, and Mental Health Department Director and co-instructor Lynda Battaglia celebrate the end of the 40-hour crisis intervention training course Friday at GCC in Batavia.
Photo by Joanne Beck 

From diagnosis to research to hope: removing the mask of 'fine'

By Joanne Beck
Peter Mittiga, Sue Gagne, Cheryl Netter
Peter Mittiga, deputy director of Genesee County Mental Health, Sue Gagne, and Cheryl Netter, talk about mental health issues from their personal and professional perspectives for a series of articles related to Mental Health Awareness. 

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles for May’s Mental Health Awareness focus. Despite it being the last day of the month, no topic as important as mental health can be hemmed into such a short time span anyway, as Genesee County Mental Health Director Lynda Battaglia says. Besides, this kicks off June’s “Rebuild Your Life Month,” which will continue with additional articles.

Little did anyone know that Cheryl Netter suffered from bipolar disorder throughout her life. And how could they? Netter herself didn’t know until she received an official diagnosis in her 20s.

“Finally, when I was diagnosed with something that I could explore, and educate myself on and find out, I was relieved. So many people will tell you otherwise, maybe, but I was totally relieved because I knew in talking with my gynecologist and my doctors through the course of the years, I knew there was something more going on inside me. I couldn't voice it, I couldn't put it into words, I couldn't express it per se,” she said. “I used to write a lot. And everything that I wrote about it was dark, death, all of that. And, you know, that's why I look back. And my mom was a big support to me. Not in the beginning. She didn't understand it either. But she started trying to educate herself. And in finally talking, she listened finally, and that's when she started the shift over to when she started sharing with me about her journey. Her mother had a nervous breakdown, my grandmother, back when my mom was growing up. And then my mother, when I was little, I remember her going through an episode, where she was taken away, and hospitalized as a ‘nervous breakdown,’ you know, back then that's what they called them, they didn't have all these diagnoses. And so it was a genetic thing.”

Throughout school and later in her working life, the mask she wore on the outside and the roles she played belied her very low self-esteem and depression. Netter was always the lead in school plays, worked in retail, gravitated toward leadership roles, got married, had two daughters, and from all appearances, she looked “fine.”

She suffered from deep depression, had been hospitalized four times and put on lithium. Abusive relationships and substance abuse -- a path that kept her sinking lower and lower -- all led Netter to the eventual thought that everyone around her would be better off “without me,” she said.

At one of her lowest points, Netter tried to end her life.

“I was in a coma for three days,” she said during an interview with The Batavian. “There is hope out there. I’m living proof of it. There are people out there, you just have to find them.”

Oftentimes, when one is struggling with depression and feelings of hopelessness, isolation is the easier thing to do, she said. But taking that first step will lead to the next one. Her lifeline has been faith in her higher power, God.

“And I know, without a doubt, it's only by his grace, I'm here. I can honestly say that because I have had the opportunity to impact others. With what I've come through. I've never been afraid to talk about it. I've never been afraid to tell people my story. I've never had a fear of people looking at me like 'oh, geez,' I just have never had that fear because I know where my story comes from,” she said. “It's been a journey. And it will be lifelong.

“I do hope coaching. I can’t walk for them, but I can walk with them,” Netter said. “But I can support you with that empathy piece, I think.”

Netter is a hope coach through City Church. A hope coach is a believer in Christ who is devoted to helping others to achieve their fullest potential and who will encourage one to have hope in oneself and God by faith. A hope coach is not a counselor or therapist.

For more information about this program, call 585-343-6895.

Peter Mittiga, deputy director of Genesee County Mental Heath, said that therapist numbers are bouncing back from COVID days, and that has opened up more availability for appointments at the mental health facility on East Main Street in Batavia.

“So I'm really excited about this, and I think it'd be great for the community just knowing, we have walk-in hours every day. Yes, you can be seen right away. But then, currently, you might have to book out two or three weeks for your next appointment,” he said. “But once we are fully staffed, then get right in and start therapy right away, which is great. “Or if somebody is doing very well, they might say, hey, can I see you monthly just to check in, and that's fine, too. 

"And then also individuals that have been in therapy for a while they feel like they don't really need the therapy, if they want to get through with medication. They can be enrolled in our medication management program," he said. "So we have a nurse who will check in with them periodically, but they primarily just come here and they see a doctor and stay on medications for three months. And those are much shorter appointments. So it's not a 45-minute therapy appointment, it's just a really quick check-in with the nurse to see if things are okay. And if that individual ever wants to go back into therapy, we link them up.”

Local Resources
For more information about mental health services in Genesee County, call 585-344-1421 or go to Mental Health Services

For services at the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties, call 585-343-2611, or go to MHA    

For more information from the Rochester-based National Alliance on Mental Illness, go HERE

In a mental health crisis, call or text 988 for resources.

Be aware of mental health 365 days a year

By Joanne Beck

May has had the special designation of being Mental Health Awareness Month, and although public service campaigns and messages remind people about the importance of heeding one’s own and others’ mental health needs, it’s far from a 30-day requirement, Lynda Battaglia says.

“The county Legislature gave a proclamation for mental health awareness month, but really, it is a specific month to recognize individuals with lived experience who are peers who might be in recovery and to really bring light to the community that people need to be aware of what mental health is, from various perspectives,” said Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health, during an interview with The Batavian.

Lynda Battaglia
Lynda Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health. Photo from Psychology Today website.

“The county Legislature gave a proclamation for mental health awareness month, but really, it is a specific month to recognize individuals with lived experience who are peers who might be in recovery and to really bring light to the community that people need to be aware of what mental health is, from various perspectives,” said Battaglia, director of Genesee County Mental Health, during an interview with The Batavian. “Mental health affects every part of you, as a person. It affects your emotions, your mind, your body, your spirit. All of it is connected. So in a broad sense, everybody needs to practice and pay attention to what their mental health is, whether they're in a good mental health space or a not-so-good mental health space. And it is something that we should be made aware of all year long, not just in a 30-day span.

“It might affect you more during one season of the year than it does another. Maybe you get into a negative mental health space around a certain time of year, maybe focusing on holidays or an anniversary, the death of a loved one, the social climate that we're in,” she said. “But the social climate that we're in right now, with mass shootings being on the news all the time … that has the potential in and of itself to affect somebody's mental health. And it's not just adults that we're talking about; we’re talking about kids too, kids who are paying attention to the news, and they’re practicing active shooter drills, how to shelter in place, or how to hide, that has a potential to impact youth mental health, right?

"Because they are walking in every day saying, ‘I need to carry my phone with me because, if something happens, I want to be able to text somebody.’ My daughter said that to me a few weeks ago, and it cut my core. Because what young people have to go through today is so difficult.”

Sometimes people are in a profession — social work, therapy, first responders, doctors, nurses — that have the potential to weigh on somebody's mental health, also, she said.

“So I think what I love about this opportunity is bringing light that we have individuals who have a diagnosis,” she said. “And you know, AJ is going to talk on that, but then you have the different perspectives, and mental health is such a broad view that you can really spend a long time talking about, like, what is mental health? And how do you make yourself aware of it?”

From the practical side of this, how does one know if he or she is struggling with a mental health issue versus just having a bad day?
Rachel Mieney, clinical director of Genesee County Mental Health, said that one indicator is when someone becomes overwhelmed by various stressors in the world and begins to notice that “their thoughts or feelings are starting to impact their lives in some way.”

“Then it might be the time to reach out to a professional. And, you know, I think we're seeing less stigma now. And I would like for that to continue moving in that direction, where people are willing to come and get help. It's scary, but it's a very brave thing to do to say, you know, I'm struggling. I need help. And I think one of the big things is that trends that we're seeing in terms of what's walking into our clinic is a lot of trauma, a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” she said. “And my message would really be that there is hope. It might feel in the moment like, this is hopeless. Nothing's ever gonna get better. But there's people like AJ with lived experience that says it is possible.

“And from the clinical perspective with working on therapy, goals and interventions that we can use, I've seen clients get better too,” she said. “And that's one of the best parts of my job is seeing someone recover and heal and get through whatever they're working on. And most of our therapists here are trained in trauma work. So that's something really great that we can offer.”

Only soldiers have PTSD, right?
People sometimes think that they haven’t experienced trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder because they haven’t served in the military, fought in a war, been in some major combat situation. But trauma is the worst thing that has ever happened to you. It could be a fight, a car accident, divorce, domestic violence, some form of abuse or witnessing a tragic event.

“When we assess for trauma, we just ask for the worst things that have ever happened, so for some people, it could be the loss of a loved one, it could be a car accident, it could be an injury, and then it could be something more significant, you know, like abuse history. So trauma is really anything that's impacting your ability to function on a daily basis, something that triggers you,” Mierney said.

If everybody looked back into their past and thought about some of the things that happened to them, and it's affecting them now, it's cumulative trauma, Battaglia said. 

Perhaps a person’s parents had an ugly divorce when she was a child, and the home was unstable, or there was drug use in the home, or not enough food to eat,  domestic violence, and/or sexual assault.

“People with trauma, some of the folks that we see, with severe trauma histories really have a cumulative set of trauma. Now, that's not to say that like Rachel said, somebody that has a really bad car accident, that can also be very traumatizing, that might be the one thing in their life. And every time they get back on the road, somebody hits the brake or stops or a deer runs out, it's going to trigger them, right?” Battaglia said. “And they're going to kind of relive that trauma all over again. So, like Rachel said, it really starts to impact a person's ability. And for some, they’re just recognizing it now that that's what it is.”

So what do you advise someone who is depressed but feels stuck and doesn’t know how to begin to get help? That seems to be a bit of a catch-22.
“It is, and it’s just kind of reminding them that it feels really bad right now, but it doesn't always have to be this way. And we'll set small goals so that it doesn't feel like, okay, well, you're gonna do these 10 things, and you're going to feel better. It's like, Okay, we'll do one little thing, like, maybe you'll get out of the house one day, for an entire week, or maybe you'll spend 10 minutes talking on the phone to support. So we set the goals really small so that they can feel like, okay, I accomplished that,” she said. “And then we start building on that. So we really try to just not overwhelm and just kind of meet them where they're at and take it one step at a time. So we can do phone, and we can do video (appointments). So that's actually been a benefit of COVID. We really were able to open up the modality of services we can offer. And that's helped with that trend. Transportation barriers too.”

Local Resources
For more information about mental health services in Genesee County, call 585-344-1421 or go to Mental Health Services

For services at the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties, call 585-343-2611, or go to MHA    

For more information from the Rochester-based National Alliance on Mental Illness, go HERE

In a mental health crisis, call or text 988 for resources.

AJ: 'I'm still here,' one man's mental health journey

By Joanne Beck
Rachel Mieney and AJ Scheuerman
Rachel Mieney, clinical director of Genesee County Mental Health, and AJ Scheuerman, a peer guide who has been diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, talk about mental health issues at the county health facility in Batavia.

AJ Scheuerman was 16 when he had his first episode of a yet-to-be-diagnosed mental health illness. It was not only the first incident, but also unforgettable, leaving AJ’s family broken, confused, physically injured, and the teenager left to deal with the consequences in a locked psychiatric ward.

Although AJ’s story may seem atypical compared to the millions of seemingly able-minded people suffering from depression on a day-to-day basis, they all share the importance of this month and what it means to be in tune with one’s own mental health awareness.

Illuminating Behaviors
AJ became fixated on lightbulbs, wearing white button-down shirts, and on cutting himself. Seeing himself bleed  “was a reminder that I'm human, that ultimately, I'm just flesh and blood,” he said.

“So, I’d go for long walks during this time, and just think about different things. One night, I went for a really long walk, and I was listening to my iPod. And I thought that the songs were made for me, that these people knew about me, and they were trying to communicate to me about the secret society that I was supposed to be a part of,” he said.

The Batavia resident would go for these walks, and while listening to songs, he became convinced that the artists weren’t just singing to an audience but that they were singing a message directly to AJ.

After three months, he decided to share his discovery with his parents, but they didn’t have the same response as he did to the music or the messages that he believed he was receiving. He had gone on an extensive walk one night and didn’t return until the next morning.

“I got lost. I actually had to ask for directions from a couple of different places. I got home at, like, 4 a.m. And my mom was waiting for me … I couldn't sleep because I was just thinking about what it was that these people were trying to communicate to me through the songs and stuff. I had this idea that people break away from the Bible secretly. And that was the secret society that they wanted me to be a part of. So in the morning, I tried to tell my parents about the secret society and all this stuff. And they were just listening to me. And I'm trying to put on the songs for them and, like, show them that the songs were talking to me and just give examples that they could be enlightened the same way I felt like I was enlightened,” he said. “And then I didn't get any response from them. So I showed them the scars on my thigh from when I cut myself, which I cut myself pretty much every night. So my thigh was just like a scab. My mom started crying. My dad was like, ‘Is this because I never showed you how to shave?’ And it was just confusing that he would have that reaction."

Confusion to Delusion to Action
"So then my mom, she started crying. And she said, ‘Your dad has thin blood; your dad has thin blood.’ And then I was like, okay, so that means that if he got cut, he would bleed out. Yeah. And I was like, do they want me to hurt my dad? The secret society wants me to kill my dad? And I was like, 'No, I can't do that.' Why are you making me do this? And then that's kind of how delusions start. And then my dad was like, ‘Come on. Let's go to the bathroom. I'll show you how to shave.’ So then, we went to the bathroom, and I took the razor out of the bag of razors. My dad was standing in the doorway. And I thought, my dad wants this. My dad is a willing sacrifice. My dad wants me to attack him.”

And all of that mental build-up led AJ to slash his dad’s face with the razor. His father staggered backward, and AJ slashed him again, dropping the razor to then begin punching him in the head.

“And I recoiled because of the way that his skull felt on my fingers,” AJ said. “And he fell to the ground.”

Meanwhile, his mom had called the police, explaining that her son was just 16. She hugged AJ as his father escaped, and then the police arrived.

“I was taken to psychiatric jail for 39 days,” he said.

Eventual Diagnosis
AJ was diagnosed with bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, a chronic mental health condition in which someone experiences symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder. These symptoms may include hallucinations, delusions, lack of pleasure, decreased mood and poor attention.

If AJ seems to be one of those anomalies that we don’t run into very often, one in about every 300 people develops this disorder at some point in their lives, according to

For Genesee County’s population of roughly 60,000, that’s 200 people struggling with schizoaffective disorder and many more with bipolar and depression, which affects more than 18 million adults (one in 10) in any given year across the United States, according to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists depression as the primary reason why someone dies of suicide about every 12 minutes for cumulative 41,000-plus death a year.

Although Scheuerman, or AJ as he much more prefers to be called, isn’t quite at the point of happiness for being alive, he is at a place of knowing that he has survived his ordeal so far. He was put on prescriptions that have negative side effects, he said, and he has to weigh the pros and cons of being alive on meds versus possibly getting worse without them.

Living to Try Another Day
He admitted that he has never fully sought out and attended counseling of his own volition; it has been something forced upon him, he said. The Batavian asked if he thought he ever would have reached out for help on his own, and he wasn’t certain if he would have. Meds have helped to keep his worst symptoms of violence from escalating, and hospitalizations — he’s had 11 of them to date — have kept him alive.

“I’m still here is kind of my message,” AJ said. “I’ve been through a divorce and just different delusions. I tried to kill myself when I was 17. Because of delusions, and yeah, I’m not living my best life right now. But I’m still here. And I’ve survived what I’ve survived.”

Do you see a place for mental health treatment now, even though you say it’s been imposed on you? Do you think it has saved your life?
“Yeah, I’d say, I guess, begrudgingly, I would say that medication has saved my life,” he said. “So my family, I couldn’t have done it without my family, especially my mom and my ex-wife. I’ve kind of been resistant to therapy. I don’t really get too much out of it.

"I went through psychoanalysis for about a year that it made me realize why I’d had the delusions that I’d had, and I thought that I could go off medication because I had realized why the delusions were the way they were,” he said. “But, ultimately, that didn’t help me either. Just because it was the fact that I was having delusions and not the impetus behind the delusions that I needed to know about.”

A common scenario most people may relate to is when prescribed a 10-day course of antibiotics for an illness. By day six or seven, you may begin to feel better and stop taking the pills because they don’t seem necessary anymore. It was a similar feeling for AJ, he said, in that he started to feel better and believed the meds were no longer required to remain healthy.

And it didn’t work.

“Yeah, I went off the meds, and I was hospitalized within a few months,” AJ said.

This is common behavior, Genesee County Mental Health Clinical Director Rachel Mieney said. A lot of times, people will be on medication and start doing well enough to think they can go off their meds.

“And some people are able to use tools that they've learned in therapy and to kind of maintain the progress they've made,” she said. “And then for other people, sometimes, you need that medication, especially if it's more of a brain chemistry type thing where the medication is really necessary to allow you to be able to function.”

As AJ talked about his struggles and recovery — imposed as it has been at times — he said he considers medication to be a “boogeyman” in his life, stealing who he is at his very core and leaving him not feeling “like you’re the person that you’re meant to be.”

Mieney strongly encourages people like AJ and anyone, really, who is struggling with any type of mental health issue to seek help, not go through it alone, and know that there is hope.

From Patient to Peer
Despite his ups and downs and uncertainties about the joys of life, AJ does have a few positives: he’s “definitely” stable and is able to function in society, he said. He also has a job as a peer guide at the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties to “help people with mental illness.”

Through his own experience, AJ works with others to “focus on helping the person achieve goals.”

“And for the most part, I can’t even tell that people have a mental illness that I work with,” he said. “It’s just there. They’re just people, and they have hopes and aspirations. And I’m there to help them with those hopes and aspirations.”

What does it feel like to be a useful tool for people and to help them?
“It’s great that I have a use for the episodes that I’ve had. There’s no, ‘Oh, I’m not sure what this feels like for them. I’m not sure what to do.’ It’s always like, ‘Okay, I’ve been through this, and I can help them with whatever ailments they have,” he said. “And just the goals that they ate, the barriers that they put on themselves, I can kind of help them to break down those barriers by being like, I’ve come this far … I’m still here, and I can help you in any way that I can.”

Mieney wanted to reiterate that whole piece for not only AJ but others doubting the value of their bumpy lives.

“You’ve been able to use your experience to help other people. That’s huge. A lot of people feel like that, you know: I’m the only one that deals with this. And so you can show them no, 'I’ve done it too,'” she said. “'And I’ve succeeded.' And it’s not perfect. There’s going to be side effects with medications. There’s going to be episodes that happen depending on the diagnosis, but, you take it one day at a time. You work through it.”

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