My Continued Quest as a Mental Health First Aider: Uniting to “Send Silence Packing”

“Thanks to being a Mental Health First Aider, I feel empowered to fight for my community to increase its ability to prevent and intervene in suicidal acts on our campus.” These words were written by me in an article titled Increasing Shared empowerment and Responsibility: My Quest as a Mental Health First Aider after my campus (San Jose State University) experienced its second traumatizing public suicide completion in our Martin Luther King Jr. – SJSU Library. It was an event that created emotional weariness for the entire student community, as well as hypervigilance for faculty and staff as it casted a gloom over the start of our spring 2017 semester. There were a myriad of initiatives made by the administration and faculty that provided students some hope, but the impact resonated differently when SJSU’s chapter of Active Minds hosted a wonderfully received Send Silence Packing event that was presented on San Jose State University’s Tower Lawn on April 21st .

I was ecstatic to volunteer, and on the day of the event I woke up early in the morning to commute to campus and arrive by 6:30 am to lay 1,100 of donated backpacks onto the dewy green grass: each one representing the number of college students who die by suicide each year. As the first wave of Spartans arrived to campus to shuffle to their 7:30am classes, each backpack caught their eyes. Some students glanced momentarily and continued towards their destinations, but the majority of others stopped to ask me and fellow Active Minds members what these backpacks symbolized. As a team, we strategized to share the statistic of college students dying by suicide, but to place greater emphasis on the importance of how to identify if a friend, loved one, or stranger is in a crisis and is contemplating dying by suicide. Additionally, I was responsible for researching data about the antecedents, attempts, and completion rates for my Santa Clara County community – a skill that interning for San Mateo County truly reinforced – composing informational flyers, and verbally sharing the facts!

The amount of buy-in I witnessed was only the tip of the iceberg. Before my volunteer shift ended, I saw hundreds of students and dozens of community members stop to discuss the facts, read the stories of those who had passed away, and learn more about how to help others in need. The day after the event, I received an email recounting how thousands of students engaged with our work, which brought me such a salient feeling of peace of mind to know that by working together we accomplished connecting with our campus and neighborhood communities to speak up about the importance of more people having better awareness of the signs of suicide. I felt peace of mind because through the sorrow we all felt, we created a huge impact, and now I am motivated to help more Spartans become certified Mental Health First Aiders like me!

Written by: Chenece BlackshearCopy of Untitled design.jpg

San Mateo County Pride PUPs

Here at ODE, we’ve been trying out a new way of capturing stories from the community. We call it PUP, which is short for Pop-Up Photovoice. June 10th was San Mateo County’s Pride event in the park, and we captured stories about Pride. Our framing question was, “What does Pride mean to you?”. Some shared stories of celebration, while others shared stories of hardship and resilience. Stories shared anonymously are placed with the intersectional Pride flag, which includes brown and black stripes.

We ask that you reflect on your role with the community as you look through these Pop-Up Photovoices.

If you’d like to run PUP on your own, or invite us to capture stories in your community, email Siavash Zohoori at

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: Join NAMI for Capitol Advocacy Day on July 18

In May 2008, the US house of Representatives proclaimed July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in recognition that:

  • Improved access to mental health treatment and services and public awareness of mental illness are of paramount importance: and
  • An appropriate month should be recognized to enhance public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities.

Each year, NAMI California invites community members from all over the state to come together for the annual Minority Mental Health Month Capitol Advocacy Day.  Last year, 23 participants from diverse backgrounds and experience came together for this important day  to advocate for bills that would affect thousands of families and peers, conducting a total of 30 legislative office visits in one day!

Join NAMI and community members for their next Capitol Advocacy Day on July 18, 2017.  Learn more on how to apply to attend Minority Mental Health Capitol Advocacy Day.

Parent Project Reunion

On Sunday, May 21st, the Office of Diversity and Equity held its 4th annual celebration for our Parent Project® graduates. Over 100 attendees came to spend the afternoon with their fellow classmates and facilitators. To the tune of “We are family” by Sister Sledge, families enjoyed fun activities, dancing, and raffles. More importantly, had the opportunity to reflect on the amazing achievements of this program.  After taking Parent Project®, more than twice as many parents were very satisfied with their parenting skills and 73% more parents were more satisfied with their relationship with their children. Parent Project® has provided 51 classes throughout San Mateo County since 2013.

We’d like to give a special thank you to La Hacienda Market for catering the event, and the award winning dance team Str8Jacket in collaboration with the Aragon High School dance team for providing the entertainment. Thank you to the Office of Diversity and Equity Staff and BHRS Volunteers for making this event a success.

Parent Project© will begin a Spanish class for the summer on Thursday, June 15th. For more information please contact Frances Lobos at (650) 372-3272 or

Written by: Frances Lobos

San Mateo County Pride Center: Grand Opening!

It was a historic evening in San Mateo, on Thursday June 1st. With the grand opening of the Pride Center, San Mateo has created a space in which people who identify as LGBTQ+ will have a space for community events, therapy, and other awesome classes: I’m specifically looking forward to their cooking class.

Check out the Pride Center’s facebook page here:

Wellness in Mind: Mental Health First Aid for Filipino Americans

Recent research examining Filipino American mental health need and utilization showed that there is a divergent relationship between our community’s need and use of mental health services. Filipino Americans are more likely to seek support and help from a family member, a clergyperson, or other individuals in their lay support networks than see a professional psychological provider. However, Filipino Americans will see a professional psychological provider if symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse become severe. In an effort to aid the Filipino American community in obtaining mental health services before symptoms are severe, Tu and I created an ethnic specific version of Mental Health First Aid. The purpose of Mental Health First Aid is to equip community members with the knowledge of mental illness symptoms. Most importantly, Mental Health First Aid teaches community members how to assist individuals who may be experiencing these symptoms and help them receive the care they need before it worsens. In the spirit of Mental Health First Aid’s purpose, Tu and I created of a version of Mental Health First Aid, “Wellness In Mind,” that centralizes on the experience of Filipino Americans. We hoped that “Wellness In Mind” would bridge the gap between the need for mental health care and its utilization within our community. We partnered with Reverend Leonard Oakes and the congregation from Holy Family and St. Martin Episcopal Church in Daly City. We hosted our “Wellness In Mind” workshops on selected Sundays from March to June after Sunday morning service.

Workshop curriculum includes the definition, etiology, signs and symptoms, cultural case example, and culturally centered coping strategies for the highlighted topics. The topics covered in “Wellness Matters” were depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, substance use disorder, and eating disorders. June’s topic will be intellectual disabilities.

May’s “Wellness Matters” workshop was on bipolar disorder and psychosis. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by extreme and unusual shifts in energy, activity

levels, mood and productivity. This is different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. These shifts make it very hard for the individual to carry out daily tasks, maintain friendships/romantic relationships, keep a job, and/or stay in school. Bipolar disorder symptoms can even lead to suicide. Bipolar disorder is also sometimes called “manic depression.” Doctors do not know the exact cause of bipolar disorder, but genes may be a factor because it sometimes runs in families.

This does not mean that if someone in your family has bipolar disorder, someone else will also have it. However, it does mean that it is more likely to be within families. Doctors also found that bipolar disorder may be related to brain structure or the function of the person with the disorder. While we do not know the exact cause of bipolar disorder, we do know that it is more than being “crazy” or “hard headed.” It is a medical condition that requires treatment.

Psychosis is a clinical term used to describe a mental health illness where a person experiences a sense of loss with reality, which may result in disturbances in their ability to think, feel, and behave. Psychosis is a state of being that can severely disrupt an individual’s relationships, ability to work, and ability to carry out usual activities. Carrying out everyday functioning may become more difficult. One of the most commonly known brain disorders that presents with psychosis is schizophrenia. We are still learning about the cause of psychosis and how it develops. A combination of factors is believed to put an individual at higher risk of experiencing an episode of psychosis. This includes the following:

  • Genetics – Genes may contribute to the development of psychosis, but a gene alone doesn’t mean you will experience psychosis.
  • Trauma – Events, such as, experience of a death, war, sexual assault, or social stressors may trigger psychosis.
  • Substance use
  • Physical Illness or injury – Because schizophrenia occurs when the brain experiences chemical changes, traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, strokes, or other brain diseases may increase risk of psychosis

After discussing the definitions and etiologies of bipolar disorder and psychosis, Tu and I facilitated a large group discussion about each mental illness and how each has affected our lives. The Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal parishioners and workshop participants were engaged and active during the large group discussion. The conversation, similar to our previous workshop topics, continued after the completion of the

“Wellness In Mind’s” last workshop will be on Sunday, June 4th at the Holy Child and St. Martin Episcopal church in Daly City. We will be covering Intellectual Disabilities and a general summary of all of the topic’s we’ve covered along with discussing local resources. Please join us!

IMG_7604.JPGWritten by: Crystal Faith Cajilog, MA  & Tu Nguyen Miller, MFT

Be the One to Listen

On May 17th, the Office of Diversity and Equity hosted a panel discussion with the theme, “Be the One to Listen”. Alumni of the Lived Experience Academy spoke about their personal experiences of recovering from mental health and substance use challenges. They addressed common misconceptions that people may have about those with mental health challenges. One misconception debunked was that people who have mental illness cannot work or be valuable members of society. Several members of the panel are gainfully employed supporting others with mental health or substance use challenges. For some, they cited this meaningful work as part of their recovery: “When you help someone else, you can’t help but help yourself.”

One of the purposes of the panel was to share how loved ones and community members could be more supportive of those with lived experience. Here are some of the things that the panelists said would have been helpful to hear early in their recovery:

  • It’s okay to feel how you feel. You don’t have to hide your struggles.
  • Your life is worthwhile; you mean something in the universe.
  • You can do it and I will help you.

The panel invited audience members to ask questions and participate in the discussion, which several did. But most importantly, the panelists asked that everyone continue the dialogue outside of the event. To end stigma, we must all be willing to start the conversation AND be the one to listen.

Written by: Mai Le

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