Neighborhood Segregation and African American Health

For a long time, the medical community has known that African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure.  In an effort to find associations with this glaring health disparity, studies have been performed to understand how African American’s lifestyle habits may affect blood pressure.  However, there is very limited research on how the social environment may cause poor health outcomes.

On Monday, May 15th, Northwestern University released a first of its kind study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The study examines the long term effects of how leaving segregated communities could affect the risk of heart disease.  The study involves following more than 2,000 African-Americans between 18-30 years old that were living in highly segregated neighborhoods in Oakland, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Birmingham, AL. The researchers followed the subjects for 25 years and found associations that those who moved away from less segregated neighborhoods and stayed there during the study period had significantly low blood pressure even after accounting for other factors that could have played a role, such as changes in income and education.

The study does not explain how moving to less-segregated neighborhoods could affect blood pressure, but factors may include less stress from being exposed to less violence and discrimination and access to parks, community centers, and grocery stores with more fresh produce and pharmacies to get medication.

There are positive implications of having people move from more segregated neighborhoods to more integrated neighborhoods, like lower blood pressure. By noticing this shift and listening to the stories of these 18-30 year olds, the researchers were able to recognize and validate the health disparities that exist in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Consequently, this research will challenge the inappropriate care provided to African American families by recognizing the effect of their living environment.

Cultural competency (consequently, cultural humility) is a strong driver in eliminating health disparities and closing the ethnic and racial gaps in healthcare as it fosters meaningful collaboration in which patients and doctors can speak about health concerns in a way that cultural differences enhance the treatment.

Written by: Colin HartNU-BloodPressure-infographic2.jpg

County Gives $44M to Housing

County gives $44M to housing: Supervisors aim to leverage locally-controlled revenue for affordable units  – Daily Journal, 5/17/17

After pinching pennies where possible, San Mateo County officials cranked up their commitment to addressing the skyrocketing cost of living by allocating $43.75 million toward affordable housing over the next two years.

For weeks, the Board of Supervisors and county staff have been tinkering with a budget proposal on how to leverage locally-controlled sales tax dollars in support of housing solutions for low-income earners. On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a blueprint for how it will spend Measure K proceeds.

The half-cent sales tax recently extended by voters generates about $80 million annually and supports a range of services from parks to mental health programs and information technology equipment to transit operations.

An initial proposal to commit $15 million annually prompted advocates to contend the housing crisis demands more urgent action. County officials responded by considering cuts to other expenditures and eventually landed on a plan to spend $22.5 million next fiscal year and $21.25 million the following.

– See more on the Daily Journal.

Healthy Minds, Choices, Families & Community – Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Cultural: “10 Years of Combatting Trauma!”

Sponsored by the East Palo Alto Behavioral Health Advisory Group (EPABHAG) and convened by One East Palo Alto the 10th Annual Family Awareness Night (FAN) represents our own local celebration of May 2017 as National Mental Health Awareness Month, an official, nation-wide recognition period for which San Mateo County Behavioral Health & Recovery Services (BHRS) leads.

The evening planned for FAN 2017 in EPA will begin with a very special, delicious dinner. Afterwards, it will feature a discussion of mental health as a very important component of good quality of life. Although the discussion will initially touch on general mental health considerations, its central focus will be to provide community members with wellness tools that promote self-empowerment to overcome trauma and strengthen resilience. FAN’s activities are designed to achieve these objectives: to celebrate collaborative successes that have been accomplished over the last 10 years; highlight outreach and interventions in the community that are contributing to success of efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues; expose stigma and define trauma as they relate to our community; build individual and organizational capacity to provide effective services for those impacted by trauma and identify at least one wellness tool to practice after recognizing a need for self-care. Finally, the evening’s discussion will address access to quality behavioral health services and resources in EPA that promote wellness and highlight what is currently being done by EPABHAG members in partnership with BHRS to eliminate longstanding disparities.

Often times, people of color and of other marginalized backgrounds do not seek help from mental health services because of the stigma that is pervasive in their community. It is important to host events like this for families to enter a non-judgemental space to learn about stigma, so that they will feel comfortable reaching out for help to receive appropriate services.

Thursday, May 18, 2017, 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
East Palo Alto Academy/Multipurpose Room
1050 Myrtle Street, East Palo Alto, CA 94303

This article was adapted from a letter sent by Faye C. McNair-Knox, Ph.D. and Executive Director of One East Palo Alto.

Navigating the Tides of Adolescence

On May 11th, StarVista partnered with Junipero Serra High School to host a panel on Navigating the Tides of Adolescence. This event, the fourth of its kind, was directed towards what parents can do to support their teens through the stresses and pressures of high school and young adulthood.

The panel included:

  • Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the highly acclaimed book, “How to Raise an Adult“ and former Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University
  • Kathleen Blanchard, Gunn High School parent
  • Steven Sust, Stanford University School of Medicine and San Mateo County Psychiatrist
  • Narges Zohoury Dillon, M.A., LMFT, Program Director for StarVista’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center, and Child and Adolescent Hotline and Prevention Program.
  • Rachel Myrow, KQED Correspondent (Moderator)

Each panelist brought unique expertise to the table. Julie and Kathleen in particular spoke from the heart as parents whose children attended/are attending high performing, high pressure schools in the area. Julie spoke poignantly about how her son’s spirit and energy were sapped from the five-hour homework marathons he endured nightly as a 15-year-old. Kathleen shared that her son JP, a bright and well-liked boy, died by suicide at the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto in 2009. As Julie and Kathleen shared their parenting mistakes and breakthroughs, the audience of fellow parents laughed and cried along, relating so well to the many challenges of raising a teenager.

As a mother myself, and as a mentor to a teenage girl, I wanted to know what I could do to better support youth in my life.  Here is what I took away from the discussion:

  • See teenagers as whole people. So often we get into the habit of only talking to teens about school. High schoolers are inundated, from parents and strangers alike, with questions about their grades, their SAT study plans, college applications, what major they’ll choose, etc. It sends the message that their only worth is their academic performance. Instead, we should give them space to tell us about their interests and their passions. Steven talked about how all youth have values that motivate their decision-making and their goals. We need to take time to understand what those values are so we can better support them. One size does not fit all.
  • Get to know your kids’ friends (and their parents). Youth reach an age when their friends become their primary confidantes. We will learn more about our kids and become a trusted adult in their lives if we know who their friends are. We can do that by doing the above: seeing them and treating them as whole people. Also, kids may feel more comfortable talking to an adult other than their parent because that adult may be less judgmental or emotional. Build a community with other parents at your kids’ school so that we can all support each other.
  • Let them know you are willing to talk about the hard stuff. Narges gave the audience some helpful phrases to start the conversation, using this panel discussion as a launching point: “I attended a talk tonight on teen mental health and suicide. What do you think about those topics?” Leaving it open-ended gives us a chance to hear what the youth believes, what they’ve heard, and what they’ve experienced. She also suggested following up with “If something like this was happening to you or one of your friends, you can come to me. I’m here.” So often youth don’t reach out for fear that the caring adults in their lives can’t handle these conversations. Let them know explicitly that you CAN.
  • Model self-care and help-seeking behaviors. As parents we want to seem invincible to our children because we are their protectors. But children benefit from seeing the way we deal with setbacks and emotional challenges. Of course we need to maintain boundaries and not spill all the inner workings of our mind, but when we are going through a hard time we can show them that it’s okay to pause to take care of ourselves, and to reach out, whether to a loved one or a professional, to get support. We should acknowledge that pain is a normal part of life, that it can be worked through, and most importantly, that it is temporary.

At the beginning of the panel, I felt overwhelmed and pained thinking of all the challenges and pressures that teenagers are facing today. But by the end I felt better equipped to be a supportive adult. I also felt pride and a sense of community, knowing that so many other adults were invested in this topic, and willing to learn more about teen mental health. It will take all of us to break the stigma and support our youth the way they deserve to be supported.

Written by: Mai Le

#BeTheOneSMC Photo Pledges

Check out some fun, powerful posts from our #BeTheOneSMC Photo Booth at the May Mental Health Awareness Month Resource & Art Fair (Kick-Off) event.  Find all the photo pledges at

Missed your chance? We will host another Photo Booth during the following events:

  • 5/21 Stride For Awareness 5K Run/Walk
  • 5/23 Heart & Soul, Inc Open House
  • 5/25 Directing Change Local Film Screening

More details of above events at Come join us and support ‪#MHM17 !

Written by: Shiyu Zhang


Potential Impact of Client Suicide on Providers

Dr. Demetra Stamm (SMC BHRS Psychiatry Resident) led a group of San Mateo County BHRS staff in exploring client suicide at the Potential Impact of Client Suicide on Providers program on May 9th. Dr. Stamm shared common provider responses to client suicide: shock, guilt, and fear of blame.

We continued to explore about how providers can cope as suicide survivors. (Suicide Survivor is a term commonly used in the suicide prevention world to refer to someone who knew someone who died by suicide.) To take care of ourselves, we concluded that providers should take the day off and speak up about it with our/their coworkers. We can only get help, or help others, by speaking up and sharing what we are going through. Once back in the office, the provider has the opportunity help other suicide survivors. In particular, to check in with the family of the client who completed their suicide.

Tiffany Flowerday, LMFT and Paul Yang, MD closed the space by sharing personal work experience to lose a client to suicide.

For comprehensive suicide prevention resources in the county, you can refer to

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