Raising Awareness. Breaking Stigma. May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Your neighbor. Your colleague. Your friend. Your parent. You.

With one in five people living with a mental health challenge, you or someone you know is fighting a battle that can feel lonely and deeply frustrating.

Mental health agencies around the country, including Compeer, work diligently to shine a bright light on the stigma surrounding mental health. Each May we increase our efforts to bring a collective spotlight on this growing health crisis that not only holds people back from living a fulfilling and productive life but is increasingly taking the lives of our neighbors and friends through suicide.

What is a Mental Health Challenge?

Just like our physical health, our mental health can be well or unwell. While there are things we can do ourselves to keep our physical health well, like exercise and a balanced diet, sometimes there are challenges that require more professional intervention like medication or regular meetings with a doctor. A blocked artery might require surgery to place a stent, or medication to keep the heart pumping without interference. Our friends and family become important support systems, ensuring that we continue healthy habits like exercising and eating right, and following doctor’s orders. They cheer us on when the going gets tough.


Likewise, there are things we can do to keep our mental health well, like journaling to process our thoughts from the day or having a trusting person in our lives to share things with. But just like with our physical health, sometimes there are challenges that require more professional intervention like medication or regular visits to a counselor or Mental Health Professional. Profound sadness, that cloud that simply never lifts, may require more than simply reflecting on the good things that happened earlier in the day. In fact, that sadness may be depression. Sometimes this is recognized as a chemical imbalance in our brain that may require medication to bring us through the initial challenge. Later, regular meetings with a mental health professional to work together on problem-solving and helping to identify the troubling thoughts and actively work to change one’s behavior or thinking.


And just as with our physical health challenges, our friends and family become important support systems, ensuring that we continue healthy habits like journaling and connecting with a caring friend, and following doctor’s orders. Again, they cheer us on when the going gets tough.

What is Mental Health Stigma?

When we don’t understand something, we often become afraid.


Mental health has long been poorly understood. Stigma surrounding mental health comes from lack of knowledge, education, and acceptance of what it means to live with a mental health challenge. Think about it- when someone has surgery, well-wishes are given, loved ones by your bedside, flowers on your table when you return home. But when someone has a panic attack and comes home from the psychiatric hospital- does that person have the same support and attention? Not usually. That is stigma.


Our colleagues at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explain it best:

People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and even discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult. Stigma is when someone, or you yourself, views you in a negative way because you have a mental health condition. Some people describe stigma as shame that can be felt as a judgement from someone else or a feeling that is internal, something that confuses feeling bad with being bad.

Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Learning how to cope with stigma and how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us.

Support is Critical

The reasons why we support each other during their most challenging times are often deeply personal.


Mental health challenges don’t only affect the individual who is unwell. Helping to raise a child with mental health challenges is stressful, and the impact of stigma makes the journey all the more isolating. By speaking up about your own challenges, or offering a helping hand or caring word, families find camaraderie and the strength to continue their journey.

  • More than 60% of young adults with a mental illness are unable to finish high school.
  • The second leading cause of death for high school students is suicide.
  • One in 12 high school students have attempted suicide.


Mental health doesn’t affect a person only when they are in the four walls of their home. It makes good business sense to support employees who are living with mental health challenges. There are important articles sharing what it’s like to work with a mental health challenge  or how a workplace can impact employee’s mental health. And mental health challenges have a financial impact on the workplace.

  • $193 billion in workplace earnings are lost due to serious mental illness each year.
  • 217 million workdays are lost due to depression each year.
  • Mental health is the most expensive medical condition in the U.S., with spending at $221 billion in 2014.

Be The Difference

No matter who you are, or what season of life you are in, you can be the difference for loved ones and neighbors living with a mental health challenge.

Speak Up

  • Tell your story – If your own story includes living with a mental health challenge, and you are comfortable speaking, share your story. Share with a friend, a family member, colleagues, or the comfort of your favorite social media channel. The stigma of talking openly about mental health will only dissipate when we talk openly about mental health. SocialMerk is a great YouTube channel where two childhood friends share their experiences living with mental health challenges.
  • Be a friend – There is someone in your life who is living with a mental health challenge, and they likely feel very alone or unable to talk about what they’re going through. Sit with them. Be with them. Call them up to see how they’re doing, or ask them to catch up over a cup of coffee. Friendship and belonging to a community is regarded as a basic human need, one that builds confidence and self-esteem. Rich, mutually-beneficial friendships help each other to become more outgoing and sociable, increasing feelings of self-worth and empowerment.
  • Take the pledge – Pledge to end the stigma around mental illness. From our partners at Let’s Talk StigmaWords are powerful. That’s why we’re asking people like you to take our Pledge to End Stigma. Join our group of thought leaders and difference makers who are working to change public perceptions about mental health. Pledge to End Stigma with us and help create a new dialogue about mental health. Click here now to take the pledge and join a growing movement to end the stigma.


Learn More

Similar to ‘First Aid’ and CPR, ‘Mental Health First Aid’ teaches individuals how to help those experiencing mental health challenges or crises. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that teaches you how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training gives you the skills you need to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. Click here to learn more, find an upcoming class, or schedule a training for your school, workplace, or place of worship.



Volunteering either by yourself or with a group is an important way to help break the stigma of mental health, offering a caring word and supportive hand to a neighbor in need. Compeer offers a variety of ways to volunteer for both individuals and groups.

  • One-on-One Friendships – One-on-One Friendship volunteers assist a client living with a mental health diagnosis who are striving for good mental health by spending approximately 4 hours of time together in person per month. Volunteers are positive role models who help raise self-esteem, increase social and communication skills, build trust, increase a sense of belonging, and encourage independence for their Compeer friend. After completing the application process, volunteers are presented information about potential matches based upon your areas of interest and needs of our clients. Great for individuals.

  • Phone Buddies – Phone Buddy volunteers provide weekly support over the phone to an adult or older adult client who is waiting for a One-on-One Friendship volunteer. Volunteers are positive role models who help raise self-esteem, increase communication skills, build trust, increase a sense of belonging, and encourage independence for their Compeer friend. After completing the application process, volunteers are presented information about potential phone buddy matches based upon your areas of interest and needs of our clients. Applications for Phone Buddies begins in Spring 2019. Great for individuals.

  • Engagement Group Activities – Engagement Activities are offered to matched friends and clients waiting to be matched. These free group activities provide opportunities to get to know one another, reduce isolation, and improve socialization. Activities range from pumpkin painting to holiday parties, and anything in between. Opportunities are limitless and can reflect your interests! Activity volunteers support group Engagement Activity events, by hosting and implementing activities held at the Hennepin Community Center in Buffalo’s Lovejoy Neighborhood. After completing the application process volunteers work in partnership with Compeer program staff to identify opportunities for one-time or ongoing Engagement Activities. Great for individuals or groups.

  • Fundraising Event Volunteers – Fundraising provides a critical level of support, providing financial resources to further support our clients and volunteers. Two events are hosted each year: the Superhero 5k Walk & Run for Children’s Mental Health (June) and our signature cocktail party The Carnival (September). Volunteers are needed for a myriad of tasks such as set-up, registration, route guides, game hosts, clean-up, etc. No long term commitment needed for this volunteer role. Great for individuals or groups.


A donation to mental health agencies such as Compeer helps to fund critical, life-changing, and in some cases life-saving work. A gift to Compeer provides:

  • Screening to match the best volunteers with our clients
  • Year-round activities for clients and volunteers to attend at no cost
  • Training to keep our volunteers educated and confident to best guide our clients
  • School-based group and one-on-one mentoring to middle & high school kids with mental health challenges

Donating can be fun as you participate in races, cocktail parties, or fundraising events at home or work.

  • Superhero Walk & Run for Children’s Mental Health – June 7, 2019
    Shed your mild-mannered alter ego to make a meaningful impact, improving mental health for kids in Western New York. Your superpowers will lead you through a 5k race or 1.8 mile walk, and a super post-race party fit for a hero! While you’re having a blast, you’ll be raising critically needed funds to help children get the support they need to face the mental health challenges they face each day. Co-hosted by Compeer and Mental Health Advocates of WNY. Click to learn more.
  • The Carnival – September 27, 2019
    Come one, come all to the greatest fundraiser on earth! The Carnival to benefit Compeer Buffalo is coming to town. Join in the fun of this carnival-themed cocktail party complete with fair food made fabulous, games & prizes, and the best entertainment in town! Click here to learn more.


You can break the mental health stigma. You can be the difference.

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week – Part Two

March 10-16, 2019 is AmeriCorps Week. We are proud to partner with AmeriCorps, helping to provide opportunities for members to “Get Things Done.” This is part two of two posts highlighting our great AmeriCorps team members. 

Compeer Buffalo hosts Lindsay Barrett, an AmeriCorps Health360 member serving our Mental Health First Aid program, training members of the community how to identify and support individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Lindsay chose to join AmeriCorps for the opportunity to serve others while learning more about something truly important to her. As a member of the Mental Health First Aid team at Compeer she is raising awareness about mental health in Western New York by teaching members of the community how to help someone who is going through a mental health challenge or crisis. She is constantly inspired by the many local leaders who are dedicated to serving their communities better by being trained in Mental Health First Aid.

As an instructor in Adult Mental Health First Aid, she educates individuals on the signs and symptoms of various mental health challenges, creates innovative ways to share the impact we are making with our community. In addition to supporting the Mental Health First Aid program, Lindsay also supports the Engagement Activities that are directly serving clients.


Celebrating AmeriCorps Week 2019 – Part One

March 10-16, 2019 is AmeriCorps Week. We are proud to partner with AmeriCorps, helping to provide opportunities for members to “Get Things Done.” This is part one of two posts highlighting our great AmeriCorps team members. 

Compeer Buffalo hosts three AmeriCorps ABLE members serving our Lackawanna Leaders program, providing group and one-on-one mentoring to middle and high school students.

Malcom Bulls – Lackawanna Leaders, High School

Malcolm Bulls chose to pledge a year of service with AmeriCorps because he deeply believes in giving back to his community. He brings warmth wherever he goes and quickly earns the trust of the youth he works with.

Malcolm not only supports the Lackawanna Leaders program but is known for helping students who drop-in because they are experiencing a crisis or having a bad day. Malcolm has lent support to a young man who is in his senior year, working part time and raising a baby. He encourages another young man who got invited to a prestigious Yale program. He listens to a young lady who is new to the school and struggling to make friends.

When not at the school Malcolm can be found helping at Compeer Engagement Activities, especially at the monthly drum circle making some cool beats along with our friends!

Hannah Kroll-Haeick – Lackawanna Leaders, Middle School

Hannah Kroll-Haeick is a ray of light with the best sense of humor! She has tremendous passion for the students she mentors, often bringing in her own supplies to encourage their artistic side.

She is fluent in Spanish, making it easier to connect with many Spanish-speaking students. Hannah is known for going above-and-beyond, helping teachers in the classroom including Spanish class. She is a loved member of the school community! When Hannah was out sick for a week the students asked about her every day.

Hannah is well known for launching an Intro to Spanish session at our Compeer Engagement Activities, which was a huge hit!

Arwa Yossif – Lackawanna Leaders, Middle School

Arwa Youssif brings the calm and steady on the AmeriCorps team! She can be quiet, but the students have so much trust and respect for her. She spends countless hours on preparing creative group activities to highlight social-emotional learning lessons, such as an activity using cups and rubber bands to encourage teamwork!

Arwa is very dedicated and jumps in to help wherever needed. She has assisted with multiple Compeer group activities and field trips, even getting stuck in the mud with us at a pumpkin farm this past Fall!

Compeer Announced as Major Grant Recipient

Compeer is happy to announce that The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and the First Niagara Foundation, in partnership with KeyBank, announced on August 23, a $2.4 million grant to support the Western New York (WNY) Mentoring Collective, a cohort of nine mentoring programs throughout the region. This group includes Compeer and Say Yes Buffalo.

This large-scale investment in mentorship will utilize the expertise of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and its statewide affiliate Mentor NY to help create a learning community among Compeer and other proven local mentoring programs. The collective will benefit together from shared best practices, capacity building, mentor training, education and assessment support over the next two years.

To learn more about the grant, check out these articles!





Compeer of Greater Buffalo Appoints New Chief Program Officer

Compeer of Greater Buffalo is proud to announce its recent hire of Cheri Alvarez, who joins the Compeer team as the Chief Program Officer.

Cheri graduated from Canisius College with her Master’s Degree in Counseling Education and proceeded to commit her career to working in the Western New York non-profit community for the past 19 years. Prior to joining Compeer, Cheri served as Chief Operating Officer at YWCA WNY, and the Chief Operating Officer at Cradle Beach. Her career also includes a leadership role at Catholic Charities where she served as the Coordinator of Closing the Gap (CTG) responsible for the oversight, development and implementation of site facilitators in the Buffalo Public Schools. At Gateway-Longview she rose through positions, ultimately serving as the Director of Foster Care and Permanency Services.

“Helping others is what motivates and energizes me. Joining a team of passionate people who believe in the benefits of bringing friends together to support good mental health, makes joining the Compeer family a perfect fit,” Alvarez said.

Cheri resides in Pendleton with her husband Carlos and their two children, Caleigh and Devin. She is also a Buffalo Business First “40 Under 40” awardee (2015), and a graduate of the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York Fellows program. Cheri will be taking on the new role of Chief Program Officer where she will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of Compeer Buffalo’s programs, as well as, oversee the Compeer programs internationally. Compeer currently has 50 affiliates in three countries and eight states.

You Make a Difference. Compeer Makes It Easy.

Many thanks to our good friends at Step Out Buffalo, for their recent article on Compeer and what we do. Please take a read on the article below, and fill out our volunteer interest form and online application here on our website, if you would like to sign up with us to make a difference in the lives of others.




Compeer is an organization headquartered right here in Buffalo, NY that is making #friendshipgoals happen every. single. day.

These guys are on a mission to match volunteers and mentors in one-to-one supportive friendship relationships with children, adults, military vets, and seniors who are striving for good mental health.

Why? Because the healing power of friendship helps to change lives. That’s why chatting with your mom or grandpa or best friend can make you feel like you can take on the world, even when you’re having the toughest of days.

Here’s the thing – Compeer needs volunteers to do what they do, and a lot of ‘em! That’s where you come in. Do you like making new friends? Do you enjoy hanging out with people one-on-one, face-to-face, you know…. IRL? Maybe you’re a good listener, love sharing the ups and downs of your day with someone, or enjoy being in the company of others. If so, Compeer needs you.

What to Expect as a Volunteer

Compeer recruits, screens, and matches trained volunteer friends and mentors – anyone can sign up to volunteer and get trained! Compeer is always looking for Western New Yorkers to get on board, become positive role models, help raise self-esteem, increase social and communication skills, and encourage independence for their Compeer friends.

Compeer provides a fun, flexible volunteer opportunity that fits into pretty much anyone’s lifestyle, as they only ask for a minimum of one hour per week of your time. What you do with your Compeer friend is up to you two. Our personal favorite ideas include trying new coffee shops, window shopping, bowling, and Escape Rooms. Or, now that the weather has taken a turn for the awesome, maybe a nice walk in the park!

Volunteers will learn all about the best practices of being a good friend during training. And the best part is, the one hour a week you spend volunteering can really make a difference in someone’s life.

Join Compeer on their quest to bring people together in the name of good mental health by volunteering yourself! To learn more about how you can get involved go to compeerbuffalo.org, tell ‘em we set ya. 😉


Compeer Receives Mental Health Honor

Compeer of Greater Buffalo, dedicated to recovery through the healing power of friendship, received a Spotlight on Population Health (SOPHi) Award from P2 Collaborative of Western New York.


In the category of promoting mental health, Compeer and its partner organizations, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, Jewish Family Service and Erie Community College, were honored for advocacy and education through the Mental Health First Aid program.

“The Mental Health First Aid program is truly a collaborative effort,” Compeer Executive Director Timothy Boling said. “Since we began delivering the program in April 2014, we have offered 87 trainings for 1,383 Mental Health First Aiders.”

Mental Health First Aid training teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The training provides the skills needed to provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem or experiencing a crisis. Mental Health First Aid is an international evidence-based program: In the United States, more than 700,000 people have been trained in by a dedicated base of more than 10,000 instructors across the country.

To learn more about Mental Health First Aid Training, call Karl Shallowhorn at 465-6508 or email karlmhacompeer@gmail.com.


Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine features “Thank You For Your Service” film screening

How Compeer’s Vet-2-Vet Program is making a difference written by Annette Pinder

On Wednesday, November 16th at 7:30pm, Compeer of Greater Buffalo (Compeer) will be hosting a special screening of the award winning film documentary “Thank You For Your Service”, starring Amy Schumer, at AMC Maple Ridge 8 Theatres in Amherst, NY. The film examines how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects American servicemen and women returning home from war.

Continue reading: https://www.flipsnack.com/7BBED9F569B/november-2016.html?p=20&b=1

Get your tickets today to attend this important film screening on military mental health
Get your tickets today to attend this important film screening on military mental health