A Team Approach to Mental Health
By S. A. Unger
One of the many take-away lessons of the last year and a half is the pressing need for our country to have a comprehensive, well-coordinated mental health infrastructure in place to help individuals and families in crises.
A particular area of concern is the shortage of trained mental health providers, both locally and nationally. In its efforts to address this problem, the University at Buffalo has been greatly aided by its partnership with the Patrick P. Lee Foundation. For the last decade, the Foundation has had the foresight and determination to support training programs at UB that increase the number of highly skilled mental health workers in Western New York.
“My family, like so many families across the United States, has been directly impacted by mental illness,” says Patrick Lee. “At times, we struggled to navigate the system and access the appropriate services. There were also times when we benefited from dedicated professionals providing quality treatment and thoughtful care. It has been these experiences—both challenging and promising—that gave rise to the Foundation’s focus in mental health.”
In further describing his motive for giving, Lee explains that he was taught the importance of helping others at a very young age. “During World War II, I lived in Paris with my grandparents. Every day my grandmother and I attended mass, and on our walk home we saw people in need. Although we did not have much ourselves, my grandmother always gave a few coins to those we passed. Her simple acts of kindness remind me that even during difficult times we can find ways to help others.
“Years later, I was able to attend college through the War Orphans Education Program, which provided tuition assistance to the children of military men and women who died in combat,” Lee continues. “The support was an incredible relief to my mother and me. I am not sure how I would have managed the cost of college without it. My education provided me the tools to secure my first job, which set me on the path to future success. The support I received motivates me to provide similar opportunities.”
With effective treatment and support, individuals with mental illness experience fewer symptoms and have an enhanced quality of life. Unfortunately, many barriers to treatment exist, including access to care. Over 100 million Americans, including those residing in Western New York, live in a mental health professional shortage area.
To address this issue, the Lee Foundation has partnered with UB to provide scholarships to medical students specializing in psychiatry. Now in its fifth year, the program has supported ten medical students who are committed to remaining in Western New York. The addition of just one psychiatrist means quality care for hundreds of patients and their families.
In 2019, building on the success of the scholarship program, the Foundation provided seed funding for the creation of a doctoral psychology internship program focused on serious mental illness. Each year two interns, selected through a competitive, national process, receive in-depth training while working full-time in a variety of clinical settings.
“Our work is possible because of our strong community partnerships,” notes Lee. “From the beginning, UB demonstrated a shared commitment to our goals of building a meaningful mental health workforce and ensuring people with mental illness have the access to high-quality treatment and services. UB encourages a team-centered approach to care, and, just as important, an opportunity to make a lasting impact in our community.
The Patrick P. Lee Foundation, based in Williamsville, New York, focuses its investments in mental health and education. Patrick P. Lee, who built International Motion Control, a worldwide manufacturer of industrial and aerospace products, formed the Foundation in 2005.