Category Archives: Mental Health Services Act

How Knowing the Signs Can Help Save a Life


Natalie Andrade with ALGEE the MHFA mascot

Before I started working at the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE), I did not have a clue as to what the warning signs of suicide, depression, and anxiety were. It wasn’t until I became a Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) instructor that I realized the importance of knowing the signs of mental health challenges. During my instructor training, taught by two amazing trainers from the National Council, I felt empowered to go back to my community and teach others important skills one can learn from the training. Knowing the signs of suicide can help save a life, yet the most challenging piece of knowing the signs is having the courage to start the conversation about suicide with someone you are concerned about.

In the YMHFA training, participants practice using a 5-step action plan called ALGEE, which stands for:


  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

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December 9 – Filipino Mental Health Initiative Immigration Forum

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The Office of Diversity and Equity’s Filipino Mental Health Initiative(FMHI) is excited to announce they will be hosting an immigration forum, Immigrants: At the Crossroads, for the Filipino Community on Saturday, December 9th at St. Andrew Catholic Church Hall in Daly City from 1:30 – 4pm. 

According to Psychiatric Services, the Philippines is the fourth largest country of origin of immigrants to the United States, and the second-fastest-growing Asian immigrant group in the United States. Yet Filipino Americans are shown to significantly under-utilize existing mental health care services that are culturally, socially, and linguistically incompatible with their needs. Along with stigma, the attachment to traditional practices and healing methods remains a notable barrier to appropriate care for the Filipino American community.

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Mental Health Services Act Prevention and Early Intervention Task Force


Starting this Friday, October 27th, Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) will be convening a Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) Task Force to develop strategies to better serve the behavioral health care needs of individuals ages 0-25.

The last PEI Task Force was assembled in 2006 prior to the disbursement of MHSA funding. Since then, learning and best practices have emerged; context and environment have shifted. For three 2-hour meetings, this special time-limited task force is intended to make recommendations for prevention and early intervention priorities and programming for children, youth and transition age youth in San Mateo County as part of the MHSA Three-Year Plan.

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Director of Office of Diversity and Equity honored with Immigrant Recognition Award

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On October 20th, Dr. Jei Africa, Director of the BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity, received the Immigrant Recognition Award for California’s 14th Congressional District from Congresswoman Jackie Speier. During a time of community divisiveness and uncertainty for immigrant families, Congresswoman Speier sought to highlight the contributions of first-generation immigrants in San Mateo County, one of the most diverse counties in California. Read more

San Mateo County Celebrates Pride

Pride post collage

San Mateo County community members celebrate pride with the raising of a flag, live music, energetic speakers and a ribbon cutting ceremony.


This past June was Pride month and San Mateo County had a whole lot to celebrate with our fifth annual Pride event and the historic grand opening of the county’s very first Pride Center.

The Pride Initiative held the annual LGBTQ+ Pride event at San Mateo Central Park on Saturday, June 10th. This year’s theme, “Still We Rise,” inspired by Maya Angelou’s 1978 poem, “Still I Rise” was meant to remind us of the need for solidarity across all communities.

This year, for the first time, the Pride flag was raised along with the American flag in the center of the park at the commencement of Saturday’s celebration. Entertainment included poets, musicians, dancers, martial artists and even an open mic, showcasing talent from the community.  Approximately 700 people came out to celebrate.

When the PRIDE initiative originated in 2008, it was the first county sanctioned LGBTQ+ entity in San Mateo County. In a testament to the advances made by our LBTQ+ community and allies, the county proudly kicked off Pride month with the opening of San Mateo County’s very first Pride Center.

Nearly 500 community members gathered on June 1st to celebrate the grand opening, complete with a ribbon cutting, dynamic speakers and live music.

Located at 1021 S. El Camino and 11th  Ave. in San Mateo, the Pride Center combines direct behavioral health services, such as counseling, peer support, and case management, with community support and services. The center is a safe space and welcomes everyone.

The Pride Center is a collaboration with Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, funded through the Mental Health Services Act. The Center is operated by five partner organizations: StarVista, Peninsula Family Service, Outlet of Adolescent Counseling Services, Daly City Partnership and Pyramid Alternatives.

For more information about the Pride Center call 650-591-0133 or email For more information about the PRIDE Initiative, check out their website at

Lisa Putkey, Jei Africa and Regina Moreno contributed to this article.



MHFA training for Second Harvest Food Bank

Just in time to support the community for Thanksgiving, 15 people at Second Harvest Food Bank graduated as Mental Health First Aiders! The workshop took place on November 18th. Participants discussed topics in recognizing mental health issues, challenging stigma, and how to ask ‘the question’.

Just in case you are interested, it is important to ask someone about suicide if you are concerned: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Be direct. It is always better to feel a little embarrassed after someone says ‘no’ than to live with the regret that you didn’t intervene.

Volunteer for Second Harvest Food Bank here. Contact Natalie Andrade to learn more about Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid training: (650) 372-8548,

Below is a picture of the group– They are a silly bunch!


Second Harvest Food Bank after their Mental Health First Aid training.


ABC’s of Local Advocacy in San Mateo County

On November 15th, the California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations (CAMHPRO) delivered a workshop on the basics of local advocacy to over 40 behavioral health peer partners, family members and advocates from Heart & Soul, Inc., the California Clubhouse, Voice of Recovery, National Alliance on Mental Illness San Mateo and BHRS.

The workshop covered everything from what it takes to participate in community program planning, mental health boards, system of care meetings and other local input opportunities, to knowing the laws including the Mental Health Services Act regulations, to mock input opportunities.

Participants got to practice writing and giving effective public comment input. Many nervously made their way up to the room podium and shared their 2 minute public comment, often including their own personal lived experience as a means to add a personal touch to their input.

The most inspiring part of the workshop was getting to wrap up the day with a real action plan.  Groups were formed representing each of the agencies that were present to select a topic and issue they would like to work on as a team.  The groups developed on action plan that included next steps, who was responsible, deadlines and a follow up meeting. You could feel the excitement in the room as each group presented their advocacy issue and next steps.

The workshop was provided in collaboration with the Peer Recovery Collaborative and the BHRS Office of Consumer and Family Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Equity.

Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Steering Commitee Meeting

The MHSA Steering Committee meets twice a year during implementation of the MHSA Three-Year Plan. Our next meeting is scheduled, details below:

MHSA Steering Cmttee flyer_120716.jpg

MHSA Steering Committee
Wednesday, December 7, 2016 / 2pm-3:30pm
225 37th Ave. Room 100, San Mateo, CA

Agenda items include:

  • Update on MHSA including outcomes and services provided
  • MHSA Innovations projects and evaluation
  • Workforce Education and Training sustainability planning
  • Planning for the upcoming Mental Health Services Act 3 year plan input process

Following the MHSA Steering Committee, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Recovery Commission will vote for opening a 30-day Public Comment period for the MHSA Annual Update starting at 3:30pm, same date and location listed above.

The meeting is open to the public. Stipends are available are for clients/consumers participating in this meeting. Language interpretation and childcare are available, please contact us to reserve these services. Light refreshments will be provided.

We are updating the membership process and recruiting new MHSA Steering Committee members.  If you are interested in joining please contact, Doris Estremera at or (650) 573-2889.

*MHSA imposes a 1% tax on California personal income in excess of $1 million. The MHSA Steering Committee has the important role of making recommendations to the planning and services funded by MHSA in San Mateo County. For more information on MHSA in San Mateo County, please visit the MHSA website at

Chinese Outreach Pilot Program Makes a Positive Impact

While Chinese make up 11% of the San Mateo County population, only 2% of BHRS clients are Chinese.  In 2013, the Chinese Health Initiative (CHI) of the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE) documented their findings of under-utilization of behavioral health services by Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans and in June 2014, with Mental Health Services Act funding, successfully launched the Chinese Outreach Pilot Program.

The Chinese Outreach Pilot Program’s primary goal is to link individuals and families in need to appropriate behavioral health resources and further document the behavioral healthcare gaps and needs of the Chinese community. A part-time bilingual Outreach Worker was hired to provide outreach, linkage and warm hand-off.


“…the community needs more culturally and linguistically competent outreach workers to help overcome the barriers for this population to take advantage of mental health services. If these fledgling programs cease we will continue to see a lack of usage of those services until it’s too late in the cycle. It’s great to see the pilot program and we should continue and expand on the success of that program.” – community member

Chinese Outreach Pilot Program Successes To-Date

(June 2014 – April 2015)

  • 9 targeted language and culturally appropriate outreach materials created
  • 27 outreach and education events at community organizations and health fairs
  • 10 formal seminars or presentations conducted
  • 6 strategic partnerships to better serve and link Chinese clients to services
  • 42 Chinese clients and their families linked to behavioral health services

(January 2016 – June 2016)

  • 2 strategic partnerships to better serve and link Chinese clients to services (a strong screening and referral system in primary care clinics and effective linking through the BHRS Access center)
  • 4  outreach and education events to public high schools
  • 23 monolingual Chinese seniors provided mental wellness screening
  • 21 community based agencies reached and developed partnerships
  • 12 Chinese clients and their families linked to behavioral health services


The Chinese Outreach Pilot Program has demonstrated a need for increased outreach and services for the Chinese community; so much so that the initial outreach worker was hired by a local health agency which provided the majority of referrals to BHRS.   In January 2016, a new Outreach Worker was hired to continue the work.  While there are systemic and resources challenges still to be addressed, we are hopeful that the Outreach Worker model will continue to sustain the successful efforts and partnerships developed and even be replicated to support other underserved communities in San Mateo County.

To view the full reports, please visit the ODE website at

Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) Innovation Project Plans Approved!

On July 28th, we presented three innovative project plans to the State of California, Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC). All three projects were approved and will now move forward to implementation.   Thank you to those that provided testimony at the MSOAC meeting and shared their stories and experiences in support of these projects.  A few highlights on each project are included below.

  • The Health Ambassador Program for Youth (HAP-Y), a project that will adapt, pilot and evaluate a psycho-educational process (based on an adult Health Ambassador Program) to train youth ages 16-25 as ambassadors for mental health awareness, stigma reduction and in turn increase access to mental health services.  The project will be administered by StarVista, who’s role includes supporting the youth post ymhfa-1.jpggraduation with opportunities to engage in community presentations, outreach, advisory roles, etc.
    • Special thank you to Yolanda Ramirez, current Health Ambassador and Family Partner with BHRS for her sharing her personal and heart-felt testimony in support of at-risk youth and to Narges Zohoury Dillon, Program Director at StarVista for sharing her professional experience with youth advocates and youth in crisis, in support of HAP-Y.
  • The LGBTQ Behavioral Health Coordinated Services Center (The Center) will provide a coordinated approach across mental health treatment, recovery and  supports forLGBTQ high risk LGBTQ communities and include the collaboration of multiple agencies. The Center will include a space where groups, events and other activities will be held and feature the coordination of three components; 1) a social and community component; 2) a clinical component; and 3) a resource component.
    • Thank you to Anthony Ross, Outlet Director for Adolescent Counseling Services for sharing his heart-felt personal and professional testimony in support of transgender and gender non conforming and high risk individuals.
  • The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) within an Adult Service System will adapt, pilot and evaluate the application of the NMT approach (primarily used with youth) to an adult population, within the BHRS Adult System of Care. NMT locates the neurobiological reason for an individual’s behavioral problems and, if appropriate, provides a holistic approach integrated with multiple forms of targeted therapies that may include music, dance, yoga, drumming, therapeutic massage, etc.

To learn more about these projects, final Project Briefs are available on the MHSA website,


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