Skip to Main Content

Kathy Lynch

After multiple experiences with institutionalization as a young woman, often under frightening conditions, Kathy found her calling: improving the quality of life for individuals with psychiatric disabilities. In doing so, she has also changed the public’s perception of mental illness and those living with it.

She began by co-establishing one of the first mental health support groups in the early 1980s in Buffalo, The Unity Meeting. This led to numerous successful advocacy efforts, genuine peer support relationships, and institutional change throughout the state. Kathy utilized fellow support group members to promote genuine relationships, strengthening one another in times of crisis and distress, and when in need of advocacy. This is how the Peer Movement began.

Thousands of people labeled as severely mentally ill have been impacted by Kathy’s leadership with the development of Mental Health Peer Connection.

Also, during this time, Kathy was instrumental in the establishment of a quarterly magazine, funded through new money provided by the New York Office of Mental Health, called Mental Health World. This magazine gave many Peers a voice to express themselves to local, state and national audiences on their own recovery experiences.

In the early 1990s, Kathy played a key role in steering the state Office of Mental Health’s initial Reinvestment Funds into programs to help those with mental health issues remain in the community and out of institutions. At that time, the patient population of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center was about 700; today it is closer to 150.

As the first Mental Health Systems Advocate employed by Western New York Independent Living, Kathy led and conducted numerous town meetings, panel discussions, conferences and workshops on a variety of topics related to mental health, including voting rights, housing needs, trauma-informed and person-centered care, transportation issues, and community integration.

As the first recipient member of the Crisis Services and Suicide Prevention board, Kathy retrained their staff to decrease calling police on those in need of mental health care.

Kathy has promoted a positive image of people in recovery from behavioral health issues in media outlets. She was awarded The Courage to Comeback award presented by the Clarkson Institute, the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Mental Health Association of Erie County, and the WNY Compeer Advocacy and Pioneer Advocacy Awards from the state Office of Mental Health.  Kathy also received the Office of Mental Health’s John Sheets Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2010, Kathy came out of retirement to help develop the Center for Self-Discovery Center on the Buffalo Psychiatric Center campus. This first-of-its-kind initiative created a safe and supportive environment for hospital patients to develop social and living skills.

When the Peer Movement expressed need, Kathy made it her business to be part of meeting those needs, focusing on relationship building. Kathy listened to the concerns of ground-level psychiatric facility staff and patients. She then brought those concerns to top administrative officials in the private and public sectors. This created opportunities for people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses to be empowered, to be free, and to have choices, hope and recovery.