Skip to main content

mental health

WNY mental health professional Sue Gagne named 2024 Woman of Distinction

By Press Release

Press Release:

Submitted photo of Sue Gagne.

Sue Gagne, a registered nurse and dedicated mental health professional, has been named by Senator George Borrello as the 2024 New York State Senate ‘Woman of Distinction’ for the 57th District.

Senator George Borrello said he selected Ms. Gagne as the district’s honoree because of her significant contributions to the mental health field and the vulnerable individuals it serves. Her work has spanned more than two decades and both the nonprofit and public service sectors. She currently serves as the Assistant Director of Adult Services at the Wyoming County Mental Health Department.

“At a time when our communities are experiencing unprecedented mental health crises, we have become acutely aware of the vital role of professionals like Sue Gagne. Her career has been focused on connecting struggling individuals with services and expanding the availability of resources and programs for rural residents,” said Senator Borrello. “Now, more than ever, her expertise and contributions are crucial to the well-being of our families and communities.”  

“While the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse is similar between rural and urban areas, access to services is typically far more limited in rural areas. Compounding the problem of fewer services are additional barriers, including the cost of care and higher levels of social stigma, both of which can discourage people from seeking help. Sue has been a warrior in the fight to eliminate these obstacles and others that prevent people from getting the help they need to live stronger, healthier lives,” said Sen. Borrello.

First connected to the field when she was seeking help for a struggling family member, Ms. Gagne soon realized it was an area where she could make a difference and fulfill her desire to help some of the most marginalized members of society.

Starting at the Mental Health Association of Genesee and Orleans Counties in a part-time support position, she rose to become the executive director. Among the achievements of her tenure was the launch of Visions of Hope Recovery Center, a peer-driven program aimed at helping individuals with mental health challenges reach their full potential.

Her next role was as the dual recovery coordinator for Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties where she worked to bridge the substance use disorder community and the mental health community.

In 2019, she decided to fulfill a long-held goal by becoming a registered nurse and enrolled in a program at Genesee County Community College, graduating in 2023.

Today, she is using her expertise and dedication as Assistant Director of Adult Services at the Wyoming County Mental Health Department. In this role, she works with individuals with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI) who are considered high-needs, making sure they have the support they need. Ms. Gagne is also contracted through the Genesee County Mental Health Department to serve as the Suicide Prevention Coordinator where she leads various suicide prevention efforts.

She credits her 2005 participation in Leadership Genesee, a year-long citizenship education and leadership development program, with giving her the connections and confidence to stretch herself and make pivotal changes in her professional life. She was nominated for the Senate’s Woman of Distinction Award by the organization’s director, Peggy Marone, who cited her tremendous dedication and effectiveness as a mental health advocate and leader as motivation for her nomination.

“I was fortunate to spend a year with Sue in Leadership Genesee 2005 and even more fortunate that we’ve remained friends ever since. Sue is a unique person who has an organic acceptance for everyone no matter where they come from, live, or what they do. Her sense of humanity’s well-being shows in every professional and personal calling she has. I am more than honored to have nominated Sue for this distinguished award,” said Peggy Marone, executive director of Leadership Genesee.

Ms. Gagne is very active in professional organizations and community programs, with roles that include serving on the state board of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), serving as a co-chair of the Family, Loved Ones & Allies committee of the region’s opioid task force and serving as a representative to the WNY Regional Planning Consortium.

Established in 1998, the New York State Senate Woman of Distinction Award is hosted annually to pay tribute to women who have demonstrated remarkable character, initiative, and commitment to serving their neighbors, strengthening our communities, and acting as role models.

Ms. Gagne will be honored at a ceremony in Albany on May 14 along with honorees from across the state, and locally, on July 15.

Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf to speak about substance use disorder, mental health on May 8

By Press Release
Ryan Leaf
Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, right, and former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham at a Legends & Stars event in February 2023 at Batavia Downs Gaming. Now a motivational speaker, Leaf is scheduled to speak at Genesee Community College on May 8. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Press release:

“Twelve years ago today I woke up on the floor of a jail cell...with no hope or possible idea what could be! There was no possibility of this life, no love of my life, no career, no future, no family, no recovery," Leaf wrote on X. "You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending! There is Hope!” – Ryan Leaf, April 1, 2024.

In 1998, the San Diego Chargers selected Ryan Leaf, standout quarterback from Washington State University, as the No. 2 overall pick in the National Football League Draft behind Peyton Manning. A finalist for the Heisman Trophy following his junior year, the future looked bright for the Great Falls, Mont., native.

However, dreams of a storied NFL career turned into a nightmare for the strong-armed 6-foot5-inch, 235-pound signal caller as issues involving bad behavior, injuries, work ethic and focus -- beyond poor play – limited his time as a pro to four nonproductive years.

Leaf went into a downward spiral, eventually ending up in prison for burglary and drug-related offenses – a period of time he referred to in his statement above.

Although he wasn’t able to survive in the world of professional football, Leaf has turned his life around – carving out a respected space throughout the United States as a motivational speaker and ambassador for sobriety.

He said he has been in recovery from substance use disorder for the past 11 years, and has devoted his life to helping others overcome the stigma of mental health and addiction as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community and CEO/President of RAM Consultant, Inc.

Leaf, 47, is coming to Batavia in May to share his experiences, both triumph and challenges, and offer invaluable lessons in resilience and the power of determination.

“Asking for help is the strongest thing you’ll ever do,” Leaf says, referring to those struggling with substance use.

Leaf also works as a college football analyst for the ESPN network.

UConnectCare (formerly Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse) invites the public to attend his presentation, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 8 at Genesee Community College, Room T102.

To reserve your seat, call 585-815-1883 or send an email to by May 1.

Soul Food Brunch dishes ‘food for thought’ while commemorating Black History Month

By Mike Pettinella
Kenyetta Reese
Photo by Mike Pettinella.

The first Soul Food Brunch at GoArt! on Tuesday afternoon provided both tasty African-American cuisine and some honest food for thought.

The gathering at East Main and Bank streets drew about 60 people, including members of Genesee County’s Black-owned businesses that were featured on a flyer handed out to the attendees.

After enjoying a menu of fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, eggs, greens, macaroni and cheese, banana pudding and lemon pound cake, many of the attendees stuck around for a brief presentation led by brunch organizer Kenyetta Reese, a case manager at UConnectCare.

While the event was set up to highlight Black History Month, Reese noted that she and her family have been subjected to racism in recent months and years.

“I’ve actually experienced racism in the past six months,” she said. “So, if you could raise your hand here if you have also experienced racism in the past six months? How about in the past 30 days?”

Several people raised their hands.

Reese said recent events “have stirred up some trauma that she had from all of the hockey seasons that I was quiet.”

“My presence was loud, but I was somewhat quiet,” she recalled. “So, this event is for my son. He’s somewhere in this building.

“For every single time he was called the N-word on the ice, from the stands, for every unnecessary penalty, for the time parents called the police on him for checking their kid into the boards. Yes, someone actually called the police.”

She said her son was kicked out of games “for no reason.”

“For every game he cried, and I didn’t know. This event is for him, and I will no longer be quiet. His time is right now,” she said to applause.

Reese said that blatant racism is dismissed or disregarded.

“Microaggressions or exclusionary behaviors, if you will, boldly still exist and live hard for people of color still in 2024,” she offered. “With that said, we are here to celebrate Black History Month by sharing knowledge and a meal. Most importantly, to celebrate one another with two allies of our community and our workplace.”

She encouraged attendees to meet someone new today as “there’s a lot of power and strength in this room and in this building right now.”

Reese’s daughter, Tzyonah, took the stage, providing statistics pertaining to Black people and mental health.

“Did you know that 63 percent of black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness?” she said. “People may experience shame about having a mental illness and worry that they may be discriminated against due to a condition.

“Nearly 90 percent of Black and African American people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did not receive treatment.

"In 2018, 58 percent of Black and African-American young adults with serious mental illness did not receive treatments.

"According to the APA (American Psychological Association), only 4 percent of psychologists are African-American. African American adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population.

"Twenty-five percent of African-Americans seek treatment for a mental health issue compared to 40 percent of White individuals.”

Tzyonah said that she “struggles with” mental health issues … but continues to “work on myself and I continue to grow.”

“I remain so unbelievably vibrant, positive, resilient, strong, independent, hardworking.”

She said her custom printing business, Made by Tzy, provides her with a creative outlet “that brings me joy.”

“It gives me a voice and a platform to create dialogue and showcase the beauty, triumph and struggle of the Black experience through my art.”

From there, Brandon Armstrong, owner of the first Black-owned barber shop in Genesee County – Royals at 317 Ellicott St., Batavia, took a few minutes to talk about the Moors, African people around the 700s AD that, in his words, “were very smart and civilized back in those days.”

“They were well-studied in science and math … and they ushered in like a renaissance era,” he said. “Europe was very uncivilized. They weren’t bathing; there was a lot of sickness, a lot of diseases, and they were living with their animals.”

Armstrong said the Moors “came in with medicine – rubbing alcohol, disinfectant, soap – and showed the people how to groom themselves and bathe. They brought them clothing.”

He mentioned that the Moors originated the famous Italian dress shoe, the Moorigator.

“If you just look at that the word Moori, it’s a variation of the word Moorish. Right? And then if you look at the gator, the gator isn't indigenous to Italy, right? So, we see the black influence, even to this day, down to the shoes and from African culture.”

GoArt! Executive Director Gregory Hallock followed Reese by announcing the agency has received a grant from BlackSpace, a New York City-based nonprofit collective of planners, architects, artists and designers devoted to creating spaces in communities to shine a light on Black culture and creativity.

He said he has scheduled a gathering at 6 p.m. March 11 at GoArt! for people to share ideas with architects for the new space.

“So, a space that we're digging down is available for us to do what we want to it, because it's not historic,” Hallock said, speaking of plans to install two art studios/classrooms, wood workshop, storage room, gallery and other amenities in the building’s basement. “It will become historic once it’s finished.”

Cathy Mack, a GoArt! director said most in the Black community aren’t aware of the programs that are available and encouraged those citizens to make reservations to attend the meeting and provide their input.

Hallock also reported that the agency is collaborating with another nonprofit to build a new 18,000-square-foot space in Medina that will include galleries, a podcast studio, a film studio, artisan shops, a music studio, artist-in-resident spaces, art classrooms and a music garden.

soul food brunch
Fried chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and mac and cheese were on the menu at Tuesday's Soul Food Brunch at GoArt!
Jada Rolle of Le Roy's Transformation Salon addresses the gathering at the Soul Food Brunch on Tuesday. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

Go Health reminds public that you are not alone, help is available

By Press Release

Press Release:

While the holidays can be a time for joy and celebration for many, it can be a time that is lonely, sad, and stressful for others. This can be particularly true for people living with mental health and substance use conditions.

“It is important for folks to focus on self-care and seek support,” stated Paul Pettit, Public Health Director for the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments (GO Health). “We encourage individuals to prioritize their mental well-being and connect with the resources available in our communities.”

Here are some strategies to support your mental health: 

  • Connect with others for support. Meaningful connections are critical to our mental health. Make time for the important relationships in your life. Connect with yourself through self-care. When you are ready for help, reach out and ask for help. Help is available.
  • Take care of your body. Eat healthy. Be physically active. Get enough sleep. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Spend time outside. These things may help to keep your mental health on track.
  • Take care of your mind. Write down your feelings. Take deep breaths to calm your mind and slow your heart rate. Celebrate your small accomplishments, which can lead to larger goals.

“It is okay to not be okay,” stated Lynda Battaglia, Director of Mental Health and Community Services for Genesee County. “Help is always available if you or someone you know is having a hard time around the holiday, or those struggling with mental health, substance use, or feeling overwhelmed.”

“There are people in the community that are available to help,” stated Danielle Figura, Director of the Orleans County Mental Health Department. “If you or someone you know is feeling lonely or missing someone, reach out to your local mental health department or someone you trust.”

The following are some mental health and substance use resources available:

  • Genesee County Mental Health- 585-344-1421 
  • Orleans County Mental Health- 585-589-7066 
  • Genesee and Orleans County Care & Crisis Line- 585-283-5200 
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline- Dial 988 or visit 
  • Veterans Crisis Line- Dial 988 (press 1)
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline- 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – A confidential, free 24-hour that can provide referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups.

To find a local treatment facility, visit

To find support for issues with mental health, drugs, or alcohol, visit For more information on Health Department programs and services, visit or call your respective health department at: 

  • Genesee County: 585-344-2580 ext. 5555
  • Orleans County: 585-589-3278

Follow GO Health on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at GOHealthNY.

In the face of potential social media dangers, local educators weigh in on who's responsible

By Joanne Beck


Social media companies should be held responsible for poisoning the minds and souls of youth and causing a litany of psychological ills.

That’s a pretty strong statement and is one being made by Seattle City School District,  the first in the United States to sue “Big Tech” for causing social media addiction to the point where schools can’t fulfill their educational mission, according to Bloomberg News (“Seattle Schools Sue Big Tech Over Youth Mental Health Crisis”).

There have been many other lawsuits filed by families about the negative impacts of social media on youngsters; however, Seattle is making headlines for being the first school district for taking on the likes of Facebook (Meta), Google, Tik Tok and Snap Chat, the Bloomberg article states.

The Batavian asked school administrators in Genesee County how they felt about this topic: is social media causing irreparable harm to young people’s mental health? Can the use of social media be regulated, and more importantly, should it be?

Paul Kesler, Batavia High School Principal, sees the pros and cons of the issue and thinks that perhaps at least some kids should put their devices down.

“While I think social media has advantages for helping students stay connected, it can be problematic for many of our students,” Kesler said.  “Posts on social media can often negatively affect our students' self-concept or mental health.  Some students have become too attached to social media and would benefit from more time with in-person interactions.”  

Also from the city school district, John Kennedy Intermediate School Counselor Michelle Nanni has seen a variety of issues that have stemmed from social media platforms, she said, all of which have age restrictions that are older than JK’s students in grades two to four.

“Even with parental consent or controls, students are often viewing inappropriate and sometimes even sexualized content that is not suitable for children. Even content that would be considered appropriate often curates unattainable lifestyles with an emphasis on perfectionism and materialistic values, which can cause unrealistic ideals resulting in anxiety and depression,” she said. “These platforms also contribute to bullying, as young children are much more likely to send hurtful comments from behind a screen, especially as they will not truly realize the impact left on others without seeing their reactions.”

And reactions, according to the Bloomberg article, have been tragic, citing more than a dozen lawsuits filed by families blaming tech companies for youth suicides. In Nanni’s experience, one of the biggest problems and effects that she encounters is sleep deprivation among students.

“Because they are up all night on social media and don't have the self-control to know when to stop scrolling,” she said. “Social media is certainly having negative effects on the mental health and well-being of the students in our district.”

Lindsey Cummins, the social worker at Pavilion’s Middle-High School, agrees with Nanni. In fact, not only is social media having negative effects, but Cummins believes that it is “exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues and concerns.”

“Through my work here at the school and also as a per diem therapist, I can say that social media causes so many difficulties. One of the biggest issues is definitely cyberbullying. Kids are being torn down through a phone, and sometimes do not even know who it is that is speaking to them this way. There are anonymous platforms where cyberbullying is taking place,” Cummins said. “Another issue is the students whose parents have restrictions on phones, and therefore, because they are not on TikTok or Instagram (or whatever the cool app is), they are being shamed and called ‘losers’ and feel disconnected from their peers. I think, in general, social media exposes them to all of the bad things that are going on in the world, which is, in fact, pretty depressing, and causes a lot of anxiety among adults and children.

“Also, the things that are shared on social media can cause a lot of concerns for parents, which then transfer to the kids at home,” she said. “All of this coupled with the lack of mental health support and services, is a really scary reality for our youth.”

To sum it up, Elba Superintendent Gretchen Rosales said that it’s a “very complicated” topic and one that kids are not truly prepared for.

“Our children and teens are not wired for the constant barrage of information that comes from being engaged on social media; certainly, there is the aspect of over-stimulation and the lack of creativity that is fostered by the scroll-and-swipe nature activity,” Rosales said. “With this comes the emotional piece of children comparing themselves to others and always being engaged on an emotional level with content that isn't healthy.  We have even seen a societal shift in which people will say things or make personal attacks on someone if they do not agree. It is disheartening.”

That being said, she’s not certain that “we can legislate or litigate good behavior.” There needs to be more understanding of why mental health issues are on the rise, and it seems likely there’s a probable connection between social media and those issues, she said.

“We need to get to the root of why certain individuals use social media as a weapon, instead of using it for good,” Rosales said. “Having a productive and honest dialogue about these issues will be what affects positive change. At Elba Central, our students take a course in digital citizenship; these issues are addressed in that class. We encourage students to use social media as their ‘calling card’ by highlighting their achievements and using it as a platform to encourage and motivate others.”

Elba’s district has an Instructional Technology Committee comprised of educators and parents to work on addressing these very issues, she said.

“We are at a critical point in our children's education in which we need to arm them with the skills to be productive and positive members of a digital society,” she said.  “This endeavor will only be possible with the support of families who know what their children are engaging in, as well as social media platforms that insist on positive and healthy participation.”

Batavia City Schools Superintendent Jason Smith believes that “no doubt, social media has become a major player in the lives of our students,” and also that it’s a part of their lives that is not going away.

“The analogy I often make is that social media is like a car or a cell phone, or any other new invention: we need to treat it with respect, take advantage of all that it has to offer, yet understand that if we mistreat the technology, there can be serious consequences,” Smith said. “As educators, we need to teach students how to deal with the impact of social media in a proactive way, no different than how we teach 16-year-olds the safe way to drive a car.  There is no doubt that social media is causing an added level of stress to our students, as they seek approval, likes, acceptance, etc., via social media outlets, but coupled with strong family support and guidance at school from our counselors and social workers, we need to be able to help our students find balance.”

Having served as an administrator at other school districts beyond Batavia, he confirmed that this has been an issue here and in other districts as well.

“The mental health needs of our students are real, and a broad spectrum of supports from counselors, social workers, and school psychologists are critical in this important work,” he said.  “I would argue that if used correctly and with balance, social media can be and is a powerful tool in our students' lives."

Matthew E. Calderón, superintendent of Pembroke Central School, spoke more as a parent of seven children than as an administrator.

“My role as a parent is my starting point because it is my job as a parent to ensure my children are properly using the resources I provide for them.  As a parent, if I am concerned that social media is negatively affecting my children, then it is my job to curtail that.  It's also my job as a parent to make sure I teach my children how to communicate on social media in respectful ways and not to use social media to tear others down,” he said. “If I find out that my children are using social media to hurt others, then it's my job to reteach, correct and discipline them.”

He’s not certain that any social media platform is responsible for negatively influencing today’s children, though he did watch an interesting Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” that gave him food for thought about the potential of tech companies using psychology to promote addiction of social media.

“If it can be proven that tech companies purposely used psychological strategies to cause students to harm themselves or to purposely cause anxiety or depression, then those companies should certainly be held accountable,” Calderón said. “However, if the argument is that social media causes anxiety and depression because it provides students a platform to be mean and hateful to each other, then it's not the platform that is guilty, it is the students who are being mean and hateful who are guilty.

"Certainly, many of the ideas that people promote on social media can be harmful to our children, similar to harmful ideas that may be promoted on TV, in movies, in friendship groups and anywhere else where ideas or opinions are expressed.  I think one of the essential keys is to promote respectful communication at all times and to teach our children how to properly handle situations when others are disrespectful,” he said. “Harming ourselves or harming others is not the best approach when other people hurt us, including when others hurt us using social media.  If everyone used social media to encourage and build each other up, then we wouldn't be having this conversation, and the social media we use would be even more addictive.”

To answer The Batavian’s question of whether social media is causing anxiety, depression and other psychological troubles, per the Bloomberg article’s assertion, to the extent that something to be done to stop or lessen it, the obvious answer is yes, Pavilion Assistant Secondary Principal Charles Martelle said.

He believes that something should be done, though he is unsure what that would be and doesn’t think it’s his place to say whether a lawsuit would be necessary to remedy it or not.

“There is some value in social media, and to paint it with one broad brush is unfair.  It can inform, link like-minded people, offer opportunities and open a world of creative possibilities.  My critique is based on my experiences working with children in middle and high school as an assistant principal,” he said. “I do see a lot of unhealthy behavior related to social media.

"The most frequent and striking problem is that it amplifies, exaggerates, takes out of context and records text and images which kids post in their worst moments.  Kids have always said and done things without thinking, only to realize later the consequences of their actions.  That is the normal way kids learn; however, now their mistakes last longer and get noticed by more people.  Additionally, their worst moments get broadcast to people who should never have seen or known about these things.  Social media has an exponential side effect of spreading bad information, and it doesn’t turn off or go away.  Kids are subjected to these shameful moments, drama and comments all day and all night.”

Another point that makes social media so damaging, he said, is that kids are ‘on’ 24 hours a day — in school, out of school, during holidays and during their most intimate family moments, Martelle said.

“They are manipulated by advertising, meaningless posts, endless videos with messaging that is mildly entertaining at best and fundamentally horrific at their worst. 

"A few years ago, some very young students came to me to show me a post showing a man committing suicide.  The video that I saw still haunts me, and I’m 46!  These poor kids didn’t even seem phased by it,” he said.

He also pointed out that, while adults are free to make adult decisions of how and when to use social media, kids are just that -- younger minds in need of more guidance. 

“We all bear some responsibility, and certainly, we should all be thinking about how to go forward so we can address these problems.  Parents buy these phones for their children, handing them over often with little or no oversight.  School officials permit students to use them, and go a step further by using social media platforms to promote school events.  We all need to reexamine how we contribute to this problem instead of only blaming the social media companies.”  

Superintendents from Alexander, Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Elba, Le Roy, Pavilion, Oakfield-Alabama and Pembroke were contacted for this story. 

Authentically Local