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.

Faces of Hope galleries for Mental Health Health Awareness Month launch May 1st - New!

Stigma Free San Mateo County is launching its Countywide photo exhibit Faces of Hope. The exhibit will showcase the profiles of people with lived experiences, or their family members, and their stories of hope. They will be displayed in public buildings throughout San Mateo County during Mental Health Awarness Month in May 2014 to educate and raise awareness around mental illness and substance use. There will be public launch events at each of the gallery locations around the County. For the schedule and locations of these events, please refer to the flyer. For more information, contact Joe Balabis at (650) 573-3474 or at

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 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  Stigma Free San Mateo County is funded by voter-approved CA Prop 63, the Mental Health Services Act.