5 Tips to Talk About Mental Wellness

What can we do to help create a society where mental wellness is discussed and valued?

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a month in which mental health advocates and leaders work to amplify awareness of mental health issues and the stigma around mental illness.

And as you likely know, our society is experiencing an epidemic wave of adolescent behavioral health disorders. In fact, one in eight teens reported a major depressive episode in 2014–2015, up 25% in the last four years.

One of a child’s greatest protective factors is a sympathetic adult who can help the child understand their own feelings, develop emotional skills, and buffer the child’s exposure to adverse experiences that cause emotional distress. That sympathetic adult may be a parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, coach, teacher, close family friend, or other caring adult.

Here are five tips to help create homes, workplaces, schools, and communities where mental wellness is valued, discussed, and embodied. We invite you to consider which you may like to try in your life.

  1. Normalize talking about difficult emotions and feelings, such as stress, grief, or loss.

  2. Consider reducing or eliminating screen time at night to improve the quality and length of sleep.

  3. Take time at one weekly meal to encourage everyone to share something about their day. Through listening and supporting each other, show that emotional experiences are valued.

  4. Talk about mental health and how it affects your family with community leaders and elected officials.

  5. End the stigma by being forthcoming about your own struggles and success with your own mental health – you can be an example of resilience for your family, peers, and community.

We would love to hear from you, too! What practices do you find help to promote mental wellness? We will feature tips in a future blog post. Please send your tips to connections@caminar.org.

Congratulations to our Supported Education Class of 2019 Peer Counseling Program Graduates

Peer Counseling students, graduates, and instructors

Peer Counseling students, graduates, and instructors

On May 16, students in our Supported Education Program at the College of San Mateo gathered to celebrate the end of the semester. As well, they also joyously recognized the class of 2019 Peer Counseling Program graduates, those students who completed both semesters of the Peer Counseling classes.

Supported Education Director Chris Robinson welcomed each graduate to the front of the room and presented them with a certificate of achievement while the students applauded each other and their accomplishments. Students spoke of their appreciation of the program and offered a standing ovation for the instructors to express their gratitude. Mr. Robinson concluded the gathering by encouraging students to seek opportunities to use their newfound skills in peer counseling and to continue their education. He stated that Supported Education is a gateway to find connection, support, and skills for one’s next steps in life.

A collaboration between Caminar, San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, the College of San Mateo, and Skyline College, the Supported Education Program's purpose is to educate, empower, and expose clients to new experiences. We offer the Peer Support classes exclusively at the College of San Mateo, and the courses - and transportation - are provided at no cost.

The fall semester at the College of San Mateo begins on August 14. For more information or to enroll, please contact Chris Robinson at ChrisR@caminar.org or 650.578.8691.

Congratulations to our most recent Peer Counseling Program graduates!

Special thanks to Jerry Hill for capturing the festivities in photos.

The Pressing Need for Behavioral Health Solutions

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The complexity of needs influencing the health and well-being of local youth and adults has been increasing over the last several years.

We find people often are overwhelmed by overlapping and interrelated challenges, whether it’s serious mental illness and maintaining safe, affordable housing, or the co-occurring symptoms of mental health and substance use disorders, or trying to balance mental health recovery and the demands of the workplace.

Complex needs impact all age groups. Here are a few statistics to remind us of the importance of behavioral health solutions and services.

  • 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That's over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Mental Health America

  • One in eight teens reported a major depressive episode in 2014–2015, up from one in 11 in 2011–2012. Two-thirds of adolescents with major depressive episodes did not get treatment. California Health Care Foundation

  • Overall, sexual minority youth were 3.5 times as likely to attempt suicide as heterosexual peers. Transgender adolescents were 5.87 times more likely, gay and lesbian adolescents were 3.71 times more likely and bisexual youth were 3.69 times more likely than heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. JAMA Pediatrics

  • An estimated 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and up experienced some form of mental illness. In the past year, 20.2 million adults (8.4%) had a substance use disorder. Of these, 7.9 million people had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring disorders. SAMHSA

  • An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in homeless shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. HUD

  • Nearly half of 20,000 US adults surveyed indicate they suffer from feelings of loneliness. Cigna

We are grateful to all of our donors, funders, and friends who help Caminar’s work to empower and support individuals and families to move toward resilience, wellness, and independence.

Caminar Participates in Solano's Mental Health Month Celebration

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Solano County Behavioral Health hosted the 5th Annual Mental Health Month Celebration on Saturday, May 4 at the County Events Center. Caminar staff, including a contingent from our Wellness and Recovery Center, joined the celebration and brought awareness Caminar’s services in Solano County.

We extend our gratitude to the team for spending their Saturday in the community and providing outreach efforts to help our most vulnerable neighbors.

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Molly's Story: Wellness is Support

Dokie Riahi, LMFT, School-Based Clinical Counselor, FCS division, accompanied by her service dog Boston, catches up with Molly.

Dokie Riahi, LMFT, School-Based Clinical Counselor, FCS division, accompanied by her service dog Boston, catches up with Molly.

Growing up, Molly had little stability in her young life. Fortunately, she could count on her teachers. It was through the intervention of a teacher, who noticed how Molly was struggling, that she found her way to our Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley division’s on-campus counseling services.

Molly was in the 8th grade when she started therapy and showed signs of severe depression. During sessions, Molly revealed to her therapist the extent of the emotional trauma in her life. Her parents both struggled with substance use. They held themselves together enough that Molly had a home in San Jose and food, yet they were unable to provide crucial nurturing and guidance for their only child.

Our therapist provided Molly with a safe place to work through her trauma, develop tools to manage her depression, learn and practice social skills, and build her resilience to cope with her ongoing life challenges.

When Molly transitioned into high school, our junior high therapist ensured that she connected with our therapist at her high school, Dokie Riahi, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). This proved essential. Molly’s mother would pass away during her freshman year. Dokie was there for her.

Today, Molly is in her senior year of high school. She works part-time and just received her driver’s license. She’s convinced that her father won’t live to see her graduate. In therapy, Molly has a safe place to talk through and face her fears, prepare for the future, and learn tools to cope effectively with the effects of stress and trauma.

Thanks to the resilience Molly has built through consistent therapy, she has maintained her mental wellness and avoided decompensating, despite the stress with which she lives. She hasn’t followed in her parents’ footsteps of addiction. She’s stayed in school and secured employment. And, most critically, she’s held onto hope for her future.

“I can’t believe that there was a time that I couldn’t motivate myself even to get out of bed or take a shower,” says Molly.

Thanks to the consistent, high quality mental health care our donors and funders make possible, Molly has had support throughout the critical years of her adolescence. And that, paired with Molly’s spirit and dedication, has made all the difference.

Black History Month and African American Mental Health

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Black History Month is celebrated each February to honor, recognize, and acknowledge African Americans in the United States. As a behavioral health organization, we also feel it is important to address mental health in the African American community—not just in February but all year long.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are significantly more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that while “anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers.”

A recent opinion piece by Taraji P. Henson, actress and the founder of The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, states "Mental health isn't talked about in our community, people don't seek it out as a career option. So we don't have a lot of therapists out there, and those who are practicing are not easy to find. I want to change that." She goes on to mention it’s essential for the therapist to be culturally competent. Featured on NBC News, the piece is entitled Black communities aren't getting the mental health care they need. I'm helping to break the silence.

To help the conversation about African American mental health and wellness, here are a few useful resources

● NAMI features this African American Mental Health page with stories, statistics, and resources focused on how mental health affects the African American community and ways to find help.

● Each Mind Matters, California’s Mental Health Movement, provides mental health resources and information for diverse communities, including this page focused on the African American community.

● Mental Health America highlights a comprehensive guide to Black & African American Communities and Mental Health that includes statistics, details on prevalence and attitudes, treatment issues, as well as educational and help-related resources.

We hope the discussion of mental health in the African American community, and across all communities, continues. Together, we can increase awareness of mental health wellness, and support and empower vulnerable members of our communities.

Special thanks to Jonay Grant, Caminar Supported Education TAY Program Coordinator and a member of our Diversity & Equity Committee, for her valuable contributions to this post.

Michael Finds Resilience with the help of Integrated Health Care

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With the help of Bridges to Wellness, our integrated primary and behavioral health care program, Michael* has a new-found healthy lifestyle and is working on remaining stable and resilient through life’s up and downs.

Over a year ago, Michael, who is in recovery for severe mental illness, was connected to Bridges to Wellness by his mental health case manager. He received an alarming wake-up call when the Bridges to Wellness nurse reviewed with him the initial wellness lab test results. In addition to having extremely high levels of cholesterol, Michael was pre-diabetic. Smoking 40 cigarettes a day also was affecting his health.

Motivated by the test results, Michael decided to make changes in his life. With the support of the nurse, he set wellness goals and created a plan. Encouraged by the Bridges to Wellness team, Michael began taking daily walks, which he found reduced his urge to smoke. Through the program’s smoking cessation group, he learned effective strategies, connected with peer support, and eventually quit smoking completely.

Using his savings on cigarettes, Michael joined a local gym, where he works out most days. Now he is maintaining a healthy body weight and his cholesterol and glucose levels are within a healthy range.

Michael is feeling, breathing, and looking better now than he can remember. His own determination and resilience, along with support from our mental health and Bridges to Wellness program professionals, have helped him enjoy a healthier quality of life.

With philanthropic investment, we aim to expand these integrated health services to reach more clients in San Mateo and Solano counties and to add services in Santa Clara and Butte counties.

* Name changed to protect client privacy

Gabby's Story: Finding Wellness and Hope for her Family

Your support opens the door to wellness and recovery for local families, like Gabby* and her children.

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When Gabby began meeting with one of our counselors, she was coping with depression and in the early days of recovery from substance abuse.

What hurt most was feeling she had failed her kids. Seeing them taken away because of her drug use had left her without hope. She saw no path forward.

Thankfully, Gabby was connected with our Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley (FCS) division’s community of support. With her counselor’s expert guidance, Gabby delved into the complex issues underlying her depression and addiction and the choices she had made.

One day, she confided that her boyfriend was growing increasingly controlling. Linked with one of our domestic violence survivor specialists, Gabby learned about “red flags” of unhealthy relationships and the effects on children, and assessed her risk factors. When she was ready, she had the support needed to end the relationship safely and to begin to heal.

Thoughts of her children, the encouragement of her team at FCS, and new wellness strategies empowered Gabby to build her resilience and persevere, even at the hardest times. The day came when Gabby and her children were reunited.

“Today we’re living a new life,” says Gabby, who stays connected with her counselor for regular check-ins and treasures her weekly support group meetings with other survivors of domestic violence.

Now, thanks to our compassionate donors, Gabby and her children have a trusted place to turn when they need support along the path toward resilience, wellness, and independence.

* Names changed to protect confidentiality.

Brian's Path to Wellness


Many of our clients may not be on the path to wellness without the support we receive from the community. We are so grateful to our donors and funders who make the life-changing work of Caminar possible.

We invite you to meet Brian, who shares his inspiring journey to wellness after multiple mental health diagnoses in this special video

In Brian’s words,

“Caminar gave me something to live for.”

Peter's Journey to Wellness

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A traumatic childhood left Peter with emotional wounds, severe depression, and PTSD. Eventually, his depression and PTSD became so debilitating, he was unable to get out of bed many mornings and missed so much work that he nearly lost his job.

Peter was referred to Caminar’s transitional residential home, where he received support and time to recover from his mental illness, gain coping skills for his mental health conditions, and relearn daily living skills.

The journey to wellness is paved with the right care and support.

When Peter was ready, he returned to his life more prepared to manage his depression.

Today, Peter is thriving. Once a shut-in, he’s now a lead carpenter with a flourishing business. He approaches each day as a gift.

Peter credits Caminar with saving his life.

Peter has a strong sense of community and gratitude, having benefited from the generosity, compassion, and support of others on his journey to wellness. To show his gratitude, Peter now volunteers his time and skills to help those in need.

Without the support of our donors, Peter may not be here today.

We are so very grateful for Peter’s wellness, and for the generosity of our supporters who make the life-changing work of Caminar possible.

In the News: Caminar Program Offers Mental Health Safety Net

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The San Mateo Daily Journal today featured news of Caminar’s Assisted Outpatient Treatment, or AOT, program offered by San Mateo County’s Health Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Division.

As the article states, "the program is aimed at meeting the needs of those whose conditions have worsened at home or jail or have made it difficult to function well in their communities.” Furthermore, it is estimated that “more than $700,000 in costs were not incurred by county services, which include incarceration as well as psychiatric hospitalizations and emergency visits, because clients were served by the AOT program.”

Read more at The Daily Journal.

Join Us for NAMIWalks Silicon Valley

Join Team “Caminar & Friends” for NAMIWalks Silicon Valley!
NAMIWalks, now celebrating its 16th anniversary, is NAMI’s largest and most successful mental health awareness and fundraising event in the country. Join the movement to raise awareness of mental illness and raise funds for NAMI's mission to help individuals and families right here in our region.  
Caminar is a sponsor of NAMIWalks Silicon Valley, and we hope you will join us to improve the lives of those in our communities... one step at a time.
NAMIWalks Silicon Valley will be held on Saturday morning, September 22, and is a 3.5-mile walk along the paved Guadalupe River trail into Downtown San Jose, then back to Arena Green West. 
Register now to be part of Team “Caminar & Friends”!
As a member of our team, you aren't required to pay a registration fee or fundraise for this event. NAMI San Mateo and NAMI Santa Clara, of course, appreciate your support.
We hope to see you on September 22 in San Jose!

The Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Today’s post was written by Jason Kaefer, a case manager in Caminar's New Ventures Program with years of experience in human services. He also writes extensively on the use of coping skills to support independence, mindfulness, and happiness to those struggling with mental illness. He has also contributed the posts Energize Your Diet and Tips for Identifying Depression to our blog.

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The last words my wife said to me before she left to visit her home country of Russia were: "Water three times a week, spray them three times a week, and fertilize once a week." Easy enough. Her balcony garden had grown from a few measly planter pots to a thriving ecosystem in the last year, with mussel and abalone shells she had collected festooned among the Queen Anne's lace and lavender. Overhead in her ivy pot, I've discovered recently, a pair of nesting dark-eyed junco flutter to and fro.

I followed her instructions: water three times per week, spray three times a week, and fertilize once per week. I had never been much of a gardener before this and have found an enduring fulfillment in taking care of her plants, filling the watering can, and nurturing each plant as though it could look up and thank me. Something about this process increases my daily happiness.

With some research, I found this wasn't all in my head. This process of taking time each morning to tend to a garden does increase happiness, and this is strongly supported by science.

Boost in Serotonin

I was told from a young age that "dirt don't hurt," and according to a study in the UK, this is supported rather extensively. A "friendly" bacteria exists in soil that triggers an increase in serotonin. This serotonin increase not only makes you happier, but "serotonin constricts blood vessels, sends messages between cells in the brain and within the central nervous system, regulates secretion of digestive juices, and helps to control the passage of food through the gut." So, get out there and start planting away!

Sense of Accomplishment

When you raise crops, plants, or herbs, nurturing them to full optimization, you feel a sense of accomplishment. These feelings are amplified when the fruit of your labor is edible!

If you have a balcony or backyard, tomatoes can be simple to grow, provided that you have a support like a stake or wire cage. Cucumbers are also easy, as they thrive in small spaces, grow quickly, and have natural disease resistance. The job of raising vegetables can bring not only joy and sustenance but also a sense of purpose.

No outdoor space? A houseplant can help freshen the air.

Reduction in Stress

Turns out, having plants around the house can have enormous benefits for mental health. A study found that when plants were added to an interior space, people were more productive, less stressed, and more attentive.

But before rushing off to your local nursery after reading this post, speak with your therapist and/or doctor to establish if gardening is right for you. The benefits are often plentiful, but you need to make sure it fits in with your life.

Caminar Announces Expansion of Behavioral Health Programs in Solano County

Caminar Announces Expansion of Behavioral Health Programs in Solano County
Healthy Partnerships Now a Division of Caminar

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Caminar has announced its acquisition of Healthy Partnerships’ behavioral health programs in Solano County. Through the arrangement, which took effect on May 1, Healthy Partnerships is operating as a division of Caminar. The move positions Caminar, which offers behavioral health and supportive services in Solano County and four other Northern California counties, and Healthy Partnerships to respond to the growing need for mental health and substance use treatment services in the county.

This acquisition further enhances Caminar’s continuum of care to address the complex behavioral health needs of individuals in Solano County. The combination of Caminar’s Medi-Cal Mental Health programs and Healthy Partnership’s Drug Medi-Cal Substance Use Treatment programs creates a powerful synergy of capacity and expertise.
The boards of directors of both entities approved the acquisition. Healthy Partnerships programs are continuing under the leadership of executive director Charles Anderson, now as part of Caminar’s operations in Solano County. Healthy Partnership’s owners, Sharon Loveseth, Steve Loveseth and Rosa Thomason, have moved on to personal projects.

“We have collaborated with the staff at Healthy Partnerships for many years, and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to welcome them to Caminar,” said Charles “Chip” Huggins, CEO of Caminar. “The combination of Caminar’s and Healthy Partnerships’ programs and expertise will allow us to offer optimal care for individuals throughout Solano County today and as the behavioral health field continues to evolve.” 

“When we began looking for a home for Healthy Partnerships’ programs, Caminar was the obvious choice,” said Sharon Loveseth. “We have worked with Caminar for decades to address local needs and felt the organization would continue the important work of Healthy Partnerships here in Solano County.”

Under the leadership of Solano Region Executive Director Christopher Kughn, Caminar serves close to 500 individuals annually in Solano County through intensive mental health services, homeless outreach programs and supportive employment services. In 2016, Caminar was selected to manage the Coordinated Entry System for the county. Known as Resource Connect Solano, the new program is helping to ensure the most vulnerable people in the community are connected with limited housing resources.

Healthy Partnerships offers outpatient substance use treatment, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) programs and mental health programs. The company has been a provider of substance use treatment services for Solano County for 21 years.

“This is an exciting time in the behavioral health field as we move toward integrated care that serves the whole person,” said Christopher Kughn, executive director of Caminar’s Solano Region. “We see tremendous possibilities by bringing together Caminar’s and Healthy Partnerships’ programs, expertise, and commitment to benefit the health and well-being of this community.”

Both Caminar and Healthy Partnerships offer CARF-accredited programs and operate client-serving locations in Fairfield and Vacaville. More information about Caminar’s programs is available at www.caminar.org.

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About Caminar
Founded in San Mateo, California, in 1964, Caminar serves more than 14,000 individuals annually in San Mateo, Solano, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Butte counties. The nonprofit organization’s portfolio of behavioral health and supportive services empowers and supports individuals and families to move toward resilience, wellness, and independence. In Solano County, Caminar operates intensive mental health services for adults with severe mental illness, homeless outreach and engagement services for adults with mental health conditions, supported employment (Jobs Plus), crisis residential treatment and supportive housing programs. Caminar also is the provider of coordinated entry services for Solano County, helping to ensure the most vulnerable individuals and families experiencing homelessness are connected with housing resources. More information at www.caminar.org and www.caminar.org/solano

About Healthy Partnerships
Since its founding in 1997, Healthy Partnerships has provided high-quality behavioral healthcare in an atmosphere of compassion, respect, and cultural competence. We operate within the Bay Area and offer services to Central Valley residents. Outpatient prevention, intervention and treatment services offered at Healthy Partnerships reflect a deep and abiding belief in the value of treatment; and a strong commitment to promoting recovery on an individual, family and community level. The primary goal of Healthy Partnerships programs is to provide individuals and families the education, support and skills necessary to live productive and healthy lives at their optimum levels. As of May 1, 2018, Healthy Partnerships is operating as a division of Caminar. More information about services at www.healthypartnerships.com.

Mental Health Awareness Month

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The month of May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. As you may know, mental health challenges are quite common.

In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),

  • Approximately 1 in 6 adults in the U.S. lives with a mental illness.

  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 have or previously had a mental disorder.

  • 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.

  • 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.

  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.

Unfortunately, research shows that many people do not reach out for support.

This May, let’s bring awareness to this important health issue and encourage friends, family, and colleagues to better understand the significance of mental health. Here are a couple of resources to start the conversation:

Together, we can support those who most need it and ensure no one feels alone in their mental health journey.

Circle of Support Luncheon Highlighted Youth and Their Mental Health


Our Family & Children Services of Silicon Valley Division's 15th Annual Circle of Support Luncheon, held on April 27, 2018, at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club, highlighted today’s youth and their mental health.

We were honored to present Dr. Tina Payne Bryson as this year’s featured speaker. Dr. Bryson (pictured with event co-chairs Olana Khan, left, and Lisa Conover, right) shared findings from brain research and practical tips to help children grow and learn from adversity, strengthen their resilience, and develop empathy for those around them. She noted that empowering children with “mindsight” can transform their relationships with themselves, friends, family members, and the world.

We also were delighted to honor the San Francisco 49ers Community Relations and 49ers Foundation for their philanthropic leadership. Director of Community Relations Stacy McCorkle spoke of the organization’s commitment to organizing once-in-a-lifetime experiences for heroes who have undergone extreme hardships.

View more photos from the day in our Facebook Album.

We extend very special thanks to our co-chairs Lisa Conover and Olana Khan, Dr. Bryson, and all of our underwriters and table hosts.

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How can our community collaborate to create new business models for integrated care?

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Caminar is thrilled to partner with NAMI-San Mateo and Edgewood to bring our Quarterly Community Advocacy Forum to our San Mateo County neighbors. We are specifically focused on active advocacy for improved supports and services for the young people. 

This year’s first major advocacy activity was the February 1, 2018, forum. We were delighted that the February forum drew engaged community members and followed nicely on the heels of the very first forum, which we hosted last November.

Recap of November 2017 Community Forum
The November 2017 forum focused on the hot topic of why it’s so hard to get truly supportive housing in our county, and what should be part of an effective holistic wellbeing program for adults with serious mental health disabilities. 

The panel was led by a mom, followed by Edgewood’s Community Housing Manager, Caminar’s Director of Supported Housing, the owner and program manager of Ohevet’s Board & Care, and the Executive Director of Mental Health Association of San Mateo County. The speakers shared the challenges of finding and accessing supported housing and listed what is available through their programs - about 400 beds, many of which have significant restrictions around access. 

The audience raised lots of important ideas, including: 

  • “Private-pay” support services, for folks who don’t qualify for county programs or need more than what adult service provides. 
  • A mental health version of the NextDoor app for finding/ sharing housing. 
  • Creating a parent co-op to fund supported housing for their adult children. 
  • The need for mentors to help provide community support. 
  • The major need for MUCH more diversity in “providers” to match the diversity in our community. 
  • Asking Facebook and other large employers to include housing for adults with special needs near their campuses. 

Recap of the February 2018 Community Advocacy Forum
The February 2018 Forum was designed to ask how our diverse community can collaborate to create new business models for integrated care, and new funding models beyond the basic “ask the county and a few donors to pay for it” approach. 

We had a packed conference room, with community members from ages 23 to 83, all participating in a lively discussion. The evening’s conversation began with our panel members giving brief overviews of their experiences and ideas. 

Alan Cochran, the peer member of NAMI-San Mateo’s board of directors and a founding member of the Peer Collaborative, spoke first. He is a very strong advocate for our community becoming more effective and inclusive in its supports and services for folks living with mental health challenges. Alan shared his experiences trying to find a supportive home – a place and people who supported his ongoing recovery. He noted that recovery can be impossible without the bedrock of a safe home. When he started the search for home and a support network, many of the peer support groups and programs didn’t exist. What worked for Alan was having strong friendships nearby and strong ties to family out of state. These kept him moving forward. Alan’s big take-home message: Reach out, and you will find there are others sharing your struggles, places you can go for support, you have OPTIONS! 

Dr. Frank Lee shared his perspective as a parent, biotech entrepreneur, and business innovator. He noted that serious mental health disorders have the biggest overall negative impact versus other diseases on Americans’ lives starting in our early teens all the way until we reach our 70s. They also were the most expensive to treat – in 2013, $201 billion were spent. In addition to the direct cost of care, these illnesses also increase the medical costs for other illnesses folks might have – adding depression to diabetes raises medical costs four-fold, for example. From there, Frank detailed a number of fascinating and innovative initiatives to drive and deliver mental health care. 

Next up was Bill Lowell, family member and a coordinator of San Mateo County’s “Home for All” initiative. “Home for All” is a County-led collaborative of local governments, businesses, schools, advocates and not-for-profit organizations working to increase local housing production and preservation so that folks of all ages, backgrounds and income levels have the opportunity to call San Mateo County home. 

Bill retired from his position as Director of the County’s Department of Housing in 2015 after pulling together several affordable housing projects with units reserved for folks grappling with mental health challenges. Bill noted that the three crucial ingredients of a successful affordable supportive housing program are “funding, land, and political will.” Check out all the info and sign up for updates at http://homeforallsmc.com/toolkit/ 

Chip Huggins, Caminar’s CEO and long-time non-profit and for-profit executive, talked about his agency’s expanding supportive housing programs. Chip shared an intriguing Tiny Home project he proposed to the county using the site of a long-closed boys’ camp to create an 80-unit community with support staff available 24/7. While some of the tiny homes would be reserved for low-income folks with mental health and other challenges, the community would also welcome other low-income residents including local farm workers. 

Chip wants to include social enterprises on the site to provide vocational training and generate income that could cover some of the expenses for this program. The project design also makes the most use possible of existing infrastructure – admin buildings, utilities, and roads. Caminar, which would hold the master lease, is raising $3-$4.5 million in donations to combine with county subsidies and income from rent ($50 - $125/night). 

In another approach to expand access to services, Caminar has two private-pay programs. Olivos Private Care is a concierge psychiatric and psychosocial program designed to help improve clients’ overall health and wellness. The Olivos team includes a psychologist, psychiatrist, case manager, registered nurse, outpatient therapist, job developer, educator, and peer specialist collaborating with the client and their support network. They can provide individualized services ranging from acute psychiatric emergencies to creating and maintaining a plan of care for sustained living in the community. The cost is based on the services you access, and insurance not accepted. 

Chip also mentioned Linden House, an apartment building that uses income from clients who can pay “market rate” to subsidize services for low-income clients. 

Finally, Dan Peck, a director at Third Sector Capital Partners, is a family member who transitioned from a finance career to work on creating innovative ways to find and combine government and philanthropic funds. Dan’s goal is to tackle the multi-faceted issues facing folks dealing with mental health and other serious life challenges. Third Sector Capital has pulled together some novel combinations of collaborators to increasing affordable supportive housing as part of a holistic wellness approach – even when the uphill political battle seems unwinnable. 

Dan noted that the key is finding a way to harness the community will to make things happen. He described how Boards of Supervisors for both Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County carried out significant research into the scale and root causes of their local mental health and housing challenges. What they learned convinced them that continuing to do nothing because of objections from landlords, homeowners, and others would drive huge costs going forward for the county. Actively working to house the chronically homeless – which would require supportive services as well – could cut taxpayer costs by 79% in LA county! 

Third Capital’s team is adept at finding and pulling together pools of private and public funds, including risk-averse governments and risk-taking philanthropists, and helping the parties find a way to collaborate. Dan noted that a crucial part of the long-term success of such programs will be tracking how well these programs work for people. Positive outcomes will generate cost savings, which can then be recycled into other projects. 

So how can we change hearts and minds here in San Mateo? An audience member asked how we can keep the panel members and the audience talking and collaborating to bring this change to our county. The audience consensus is to reach out to our local panel members to continue brainstorming on how we can bring the county to develop a clear cost-benefit analysis that makes it clear that continued inaction will only make things worse for homeowners, businesses and the broader community. 

Several audience members plan to work on making the next brainstorming sessions a reality - so keep watching for emails and flyers. Be part of generating a wave of support for expanding supportive housing in San Mateo County!

Click here for the full recap of the February meeting. 

For more information on the Quarterly Community Advocacy Forum and the future discussions, please contact:

Cynthia Robbins-Roth
Family Support Manager
Edgewood’s TAY Program


Leanna Harper
Family Partner


Helene Zimmerman
Executive Director
NAMI- San Mateo


And, save the date for the next forum, to be held on Thursday, June 7
Dinner: 5:30 pm
Panel and Discussion: 6:00 - 7:30 pm
Location: Silicon Valley Community Foundation, 1300 El Camino Real, San Mateo

Tips for Identifying Depression

Today’s post was written by Jason Kaefer, a case manager in Caminar's New Ventures Program with years of experience in human services. He also writes extensively on the use of coping skills to support independence, mindfulness, and happiness to those struggling with mental illness. He also recently contributed the post Energize Your Diet to our blog.


Identifying depression in yourself or a loved one can be difficult. Understand that the symptoms are sneaky; not every person reveals consistent signs with one another, signs that are unusual and downright frustrating, and may force you to think they're symptoms of something else altogether. For example, a person who exhibits anger and irritability would, by most onlookers, be classified as "some jerk" who needs anger management. Many folks will live with this issue assuming their lives are stagnant and the dramatic emotions, whether highs and lows or irritability, will remain with them and should best be lived with rather than being dealt with. But this doesn't have to be you or anyone you know and love. Depression manifests in a variety of ways: 
There's tired, and then there's TIRED. I'm sure you know the difference, and then there's fatigue. Fatigue will leave you feeling as though your muscles have been subjected to shock therapy for seven hours followed by mental, muscular, and marrow-deep exhaustion. Certain exhaustion can be attributed to an overworked schedule, stress, and lack of sleep, and often is abolished after returning to a healthy sleep cycle. But if you find that you're tired with no reason, or still tired after 7-8 hours of sleep, be aware of the link between depression and fatigue. According to ZME Science, "Depression affects appetite and sleep — both vital to generating and replenishing energy. In most cases, patients report insomnia and getting less sleep, though an overabundance will also ruin your mood and energy levels."
Loss of interest
This is where it gets blurry; people lose interest all the time. Teenagers, for example, enter and exit phases the way ocean tides recede and return. A person's grooming and hygiene should be noted. If depression is suspected, a person might neglect their hygiene as well as bathing habits. Loss of interest in sex, social gatherings, and other activities the individual may have been heavily invested in should be examined. It's important to understand the difference between temporary and long-term loss of interest. Lack of interest may also lead to little to no motivation in exploring new possibilities in life, which is why a friend or loved one should remain diligent in following up on such changes.
When a friend or a family member becomes irritable with you, it may often be a cause unrelated to the situation, and is often dismissed as a bad day and won't be revisited for some time. Most often there is a relatable cause. There are, however, links between anger and depression. According to Psychology Today, individuals with depression experience intense inner conflict that often results in angry outbursts. "Getting angry at these ‘voices’ can be liberating, but that means getting in touch with our core feelings of anger rather than aiming it at ourselves. For example, when we may feel angry at the cruel way we treat ourselves today, we’re in touch with our adaptive anger, and we feel like we’re on our own side. Letting ourselves feel and express adaptive anger can help us feel less burdened, freer, and more in touch with our real self."
Suicidal Thoughts
The most serious predicament is suicidal thoughts. If you or anyone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7 trained assistance to de-escalate and prevent crises. For more information, also check out the LifeLine link

These symptoms can be difficult to spot. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing depression, reach out and stay connected. Make socializing a priority, no matter hard it seems. Many people with depression tend to isolate as it gets worse. Know that help is just a call away. You don’t need to be alone. For example, a doctor can direct you toward possible medication, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), as well as support groups.
This post has been peer reviewed. 

Black History Month and Mental Wellness

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According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are at significantly increased risk to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. As Black History Month wraps up, we’d like to share a couple of resources and articles we’ve seen this last month specifically focused on mental wellness in the African American community.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicates that while “anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers.”

A few of the more common mental health conditions experienced by the African American community include:

  • Major depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Suicide, particularly among young African American men
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are, unfortunately, at increased risk to be victims of violent crime

NAMI devotes this page to how mental health affects the African American community and resources for support. 

Each Mind Matters, California’s Mental Health Movement, writes that “historically, enslavement, lack of economic opportunity, oppression and cultural bias have led to high poverty in the African American community. These factors can lead to homelessness, incarceration, and substance use problems, which increase the chances of poor mental health.” Each Mind Matters provides a comprehensive resource page and list of tools to help individuals reach out for support when needed.  

The Alameda County Everyone Counts Campaign highlights how superstar rapper Jay-Z has emerged as a hero to African-American communities as he has spoken out about mental health stigma removing barriers to seeking help for mental health in the African-American community. Read the recap, with links to related articles, here

While this is just a short list of many resources and articles, we hope this discussion of mental health in the African American community, and across all communities, continues. Together, we can increase awareness of mental health issues and mental wellness, and support those who need help. 

From Alone and Without Hope to Resilience: Michael's Story

Do you know someone like Michael? Someone who struggles with his mental health and lives on the margins, alone and without hope?

In his 20s, Michael began to struggle with mental illness. A doctor misdiagnosed his condition, leading to treatments that made Michael feel worse. He turned to self-medication. Over the years, relationships with family and friends frayed and fell away. Living on the margins, often homeless, he was alone and without hope.


Michael’s journey with Caminar began at one of our crisis residential treatment programs. His life began to change with a correct diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. At last, receiving appropriate treatment and care, Michael’s physical and mental health improved. With new hope, he committed to the work of recovery.

Michael’s journey took him from constant crisis to independence. His Caminar team helped him secure a job and a safe place to live. He’s doing the work to keep moving forward. He tells us he feels stronger than ever.

One in five of our neighbors will experience mental illness. Resilience is possible with quality care and compassion.

We are so proud of Michael and his hard work, dedication, and commitment to healthy living. And, Michael's story isn't  a rarity. Many people like Michael have become more resilient, moved from crisis to independence, and are enjoying healthier, fuller lives.