Stigma Free San Mateo County

stigma free san mateo county  logoWhat is Stigma Free San Mateo County?

The stigma around mental illness and substance use has often discouraged and prevented individuals from seeking treatment. The impact of that stigma can vary based on one's community and culture. 

Stigma Free San Mateo County is an initiative by San Mateo County's Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS) to eliminate stigma and end the discrimination against people with mental illness and substance use issues in San Mateo County. It is an extension of stigma reduction work started years ago as part of the Anti-Stigma Initiative. The focus on stigma reduction was largely driven by community stakeholders who insisted that stigma be one component of the BHRS Prevention and Early Intervention strategy.

New! Faces of Hope Exhibits and Proclamations

Faces of Hope is a photo exhibit that profiles people who experience mental health and substance use challenges, and their stories of hope. The exhibit was displayed in public galleries throughout San Mateo County during Mental Health Awarness Month in May 2014 to educate and raise awareness around mental illness and substance use. The galleries were well attended and over 80 individuals provided written feedback about how the exhibit impacted their views on mental health and substance use. Additionally, six City Councils, along with the County Board of Supervisors, adopted proclamations that recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month and encourage San Mateo County residents to increase their awareness of mental health and reduce stigma and discrimination.

2014 Faces of Hope Exhibit

Aireen                                            Jamielyn                                     Pam        

Beth                                               Joe                                              Sheila 

Chester                                          Joyce                                          Sunny

Colleen                                          Kathy                                           Theresa

Corina                                            Kathleen

2014 Proclamations

Burlingame                                    East Palo Alto                               Redwood City

Daly City                                        Foster City                                   San Carlos

County Board of Supervisors


Commit to 5 Steps to Living Stigma Free

1. Sign the pledge

Support your family, friends and neighbors living with mental illness and substance use issues by signing the Stigma Free SMC pledge, or by creating your own pledge using the personalized pledge card. You can send both to the Office of Diversity and Equity at the address below. You can also sign the California statewide pledge managed by the Each Mind Matters campaign.
BHRS Office of Diversity and Equity, 225 37th Ave, 3rd Floor, San Mateo, CA 94403

2. Share your story

Sharing personal stories has been found to be very effective in reducing stigma. If you, or your family, has lived experiences with mental illness or substance use disorders, we encourage you to share your stories with others. BHRS offers FREE programs that use photography, video and other media to tell your story.

3. Get educated

Lack of knowledge and awareness around mental illness and substance use conditions often lead to misperception and stereotypes. Educate yourself about these conditions and share that knowledge with others. BHRS offers a FREE 8-hour course called Mental Health First Aid that teaches you about the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses, and how you can help someone in emotional distress. More information about this course can be found on the Community Education page.

4. Spread the word

You can help reduce stigma by spreading the message to others that recovery from a mental illness or substance use problem is possible and does happen. Many forms of treatment are available for anyone who needs help. Below are some phone numbers that can be called if one needs help. Share this information with your friends, colleagues and family members.

5. Get involved


Host a community film screening and discussion

Would you like to help host a film screening and discussion about stigma in your neighborhood or community?  Stigma Free San Mateo County would like to hear from you. We are looking for more places to spread the word. Contact Joe Balabis at (650) 573-3474 or at jbalabis@smcgov.org for more information.


If you need help, call:

  • Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) ..(650) 573-2662
  • BHRS ACCESS ..................................(800) 686-0101
  • Crisis Intervention and Suicide Hotline ..(800) 273-8255
  • StarVista Youth Crisis Line .................(650) 579-0350
  • For any emergencies call ...................911 

Local Resources

  • Behavioral Health and Recovery Services - County-run behavioral health prevention and treatment services.
  • Asian American Recovery Services - Substance abuse prevention, treatment and oureach services to Asians, Pacific Islanders and other communities.
  • Caminar - Community-based services for adults with disabilities and mental health conditions.
  • Edgewood Center for Children and Families - Helps children and families overcome challenges such as abuse, neglect, mental illness and crisis.
  • El Centro de Libertad - Meets the needs of low income, Spanish and English speakers who have problems with substance abuse, alcohol and other related problems.
  • Heart and Soul, Inc - Consumer-run mental health services agency based in San Mateo.
  • Pyramid Alternatives - Provides community-based counseling and education to address substance abuse, mental illness and violence in families.
  • Stamp Out Stigma - Speakers bureau based in San Mateo where people with lived experiences can share their stories.
  • Voices of Recovery - Creates peer-led opportunities for individuals in, or in need of, long-term recovery from alcohol and other drug addictions.

Statewide Resources

For more information about Stigma Free San Mateo County, please contact Joe Balabis with the Office of Diversity and Equity at (650) 573-3474, or email jbalabis@smcgov.org. Stigma Free San Mateo County is funded by voter-approved CA Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act.