Lived Experience Education Workgroup PUPs: How to be a better ally

By Austyn Lee, Office of Diversity & Equity Summer Intern

On Tuesday, September 5th, the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) captured the stories from the Lived Experience Education Workgroup (LEEW) through PUP, which is short for Pop-Up Photovoice. In a PUP, participants pair their short, written piece with a photo of themselves or an image that they feel represents their message. For this PUP, stories shared anonymously were paired with either the purple and teal ribbon for suicide prevention or the green ribbon for mental health awareness. Because September is Suicide Prevention Month as well as Recovery Month, the framing question was: “What do people need to know about your lived experience in times when you may need more support?”

The goal of this PUP was to learn from each other on how to provide additional support during tough times in a way that folks with lived experience find helpful and appropriate. Their expertise in their experience allows us to clarify misconceptions and avoid making assumptions based on appearance or what we may think is best. These stories are crucial in teaching us how to be better allies to those with lived experience.

Some LEEW members shared stories of times when friends or healthcare providers were not helpful in giving support, which often involved using stigmatizing, blaming, and judgmental language. Others shared tips on how to be an effective ally. These included listening non-judgmentally as someone shares their story, withholding advice-giving, and repeating back what you heard from the person so that they feel heard. Other general tips shared were being patient, open, understanding and simply meeting people where they’re at.

LEEW is a workgroup that promotes workforce opportunities for mental health consumers and family members, shares information on countywide and statewide events and conferences surrounding mental health and substance use, and supports people serving in BHRS peer programs. LEEW meets on the first Tuesday of every month from 3:30pm-5:00pm at 2000 Alameda de las Pulgas, Room 201.

Many LEEW members are graduates of ODE’s Lived Experience Academy (LEA), a program designed for individuals who identify as having experience with mental health and/or substance use challenges and/or family members of those with lived experience. This program gives participants the tools they need to share their stories to empower themselves and to advocate for the needs of others with lived experience, furthering the healing process, reducing stigma, and educating the community about mental health and substance use challenges.

ODE’s Storytelling Program offers a space in which community members can share their stories and experiences of wellness and recovery. One of the main goals of the Storytelling Program is to provide rich insight to providers on their consumers’ needs and experiences, in the hopes of improving healthcare services for the diverse communities in San Mateo County.

As you look through these Pop-Up Photovoices, think about the role you play as a community member and as an ally to those with mental health and/or substance challenges. If you have lived experience yourself, know that many folks find that sharing their stories can be a healing and empowering experience, helping us open up and get to know each other better.

Check out the LEEW Photovoice projects here.

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

For more information about the Lived Experience Academy, visit or contact Dr. Erica Britton at

Siavash Zohoori contributed to this article.