About the Cover

Melinda DuBois is the Executive Director at Mental Health Advocates of Western New York (MHA). Previously known as the Mental Health Association of Erie County, the agency provides non-clinical mental health services, including education, prevention, early intervention programs, and supportive services that benefit adults, families, individuals, and children in homes, schools, and workplaces throughout Western New York.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month and Women’s Health Month, Melinda was the perfect choice for this month’s cover. A Western New York native, Melinda grew up in Jamestown, New York, and completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University at Buffalo, where she obtained a Master of Social Work degree. Regarding why Melinda chose this degree, she says, “I watched the journey of a close family member who had a mental health diagnosis, and the strength of my mom, who was a teacher’s aide. She was my hero.”

Landing her first job as a therapist at Spectrum Health, Melinda said, “I realized pretty quickly that I wanted to figure out a way of looking at bigger systems of mental health care. I was interested in working from the administrative side of things, advocating, working toward a cause, and creating positive change for people.

Knowing the importance of caring for her mental health, Melinda utilizes therapies like yoga and meditation to help ease her stress. She has been a meditator for over 10 years, is trained to teach meditation, and is a certified yoga instructor. Her daily routine involves waking up very early to practice yoga, meditate, journal, and practice gratitude.

Melinda lauds significant praise upon workplaces that are providing mental health services to their employees and hopes to see more companies follow in their footsteps. Citing Ingram Micro and ESL Federal Credit Union, she believes having employee resource groups for individuals with a mental health diagnosis or disability benefits everyone. She says, “I believe that workplaces have an obligation to support people’s mental health. So many of us come to work with mental health struggles — parents dealing with teens who are experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as difficulties within their own families.” Melinda says creating a mentally healthy workplace requires a solid culture of supporting each other’s needs. To apply these practices at MHA, Melinda encourages an open-door policy to facilitate conversation when dissension occurs. “We encourage staff to contribute ideas and then give them feedback about those ideas. We work toward providing solutions to problems and report back about what we’ve done.”

Regarding what makes MHA so special, Melinda says, “People here are passionate about the work we do, and 80% of our staff identifies as a person with a lived experience. I lead with compassion and caring and expect that of everyone who works here. There is a lot of love and support in this organization. Having those core principles in place makes it better for all of us.”

Looking back on causes that inspire her passion, Melinda recalls her years working in women’s reproductive health services. “I’ve always been concerned about women’s rights, basic human rights, immigrants and refugees, and civil liberties. That’s why this work is so much more than a job.” She also worked in the area of college health at SUNY Geneseo, evaluating a school’s obligations to establish responsibilities regarding sexual assault, running the health and counseling center, and partnering in creating a student-run peer-support line.

Initiatives she is most proud of at MHA include the teen chatline, which is open from 2 to 8 pm Monday through Friday. During this time, youth can chat with youth peer advocates who are trained and credentialed professionals. She is also involved in the Anti-Stigma Coalition, and is a board member of Horizon and Hospice. She is particularly concerned about the one-third of adolescent girls struggling with persistent feelings of sadness and despair. A recent event, supported by the Buffalo Sabres Foundation, gathered 150 school kids to watch the team practice and participate in a discussion about mental health.

Melinda is married, grateful for a wonderful husband, and her 22-year-old daughter, who is studying to obtain a master’s degree in public health degree. She and her husband take regular walks with their dog, Yoshi. In addition to practicing yoga and meditation to stay healthy, Melinda is primarily a pescatarian, which means she loves eating fish and veggies.

Regarding those currently struggling, Melinda says, “Realize that you are not alone. Find someone you trust to connect with. Get rest, move your body, and always remember this simple message — don’t worry alone.