Program Impacts Thousands of Under Resourced Communities to Address Mental Health Stigmas - JFSSD
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Program Impacts Thousands of Under Resourced Communities to Address Mental Health Stigmas

Jewish Family Service and County of San Diego Partnership “Breaking Down Barriers” Outreach Reaches 17,000-Plus

Media Contacts:
Sandy Young / Olivia Stafford, J. Walcher Communications
[email protected] / [email protected], (619) 295-7140

SAN DIEGO (May 16, 2023) – In 2019, Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS), in partnership with the County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services, re-launched Breaking Down Barriers, an outreach program promoting positive discussions about mental health and wellness in under-resourced communities, often reluctant to have those discussions. In the past four years, Breaking Down Barriers has conducted or been a part of over 1,000 workshops/events and has reached over 17,000 people.

Breaking Down Barriers discusses the stigmas surrounding mental health issues and connects participants to helpful resources, with educational presentations and events customized for each unique audience, such as African American and Black, Africans and Refugees, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinx, LGBTQIA+, Middle Eastern and Native American. Some topics include mental health, an introduction to anti-racism, stress management for youth, cultural competency/cultural humility for providers, historical trauma, an overview of mental health stigmas, self-care, and understanding support systems.

“According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience some sort of mental health issue in any given year,” said JFS Chief Operating Officer Dana Toppel. “The communities we are focusing on are typically those that don’t see themselves reflected and represented in mental health resources and discussions. We work to normalize these conversations so everyone can thrive, and nearly all our attendees confirm they have benefitted.”

The program also provides cultural competency training to community members and organizations that work with diverse populations, including nonprofits, healthcare facilities, schools, and workplaces.

“The Breaking Down Barriers team has presented topics related to mental health, cultural humility, identity, trauma, and affirming care spaces for medical trainees and community members,” said Dr. Desiree Shapiro, UC San Diego Health Child and Adult Psychiatry. “The team is responsive, engaging, and respectful. The lessons learned from their presentations have a ripple effect on our communities and their work is vital in ensuring community members and healthcare professionals are equipped with the tools and knowledge they need to serve and empower youth, adults, and families effectively.”

The program receives regular feedback from community members through program advisory groups for each target community. The team collaborates with nonprofit organizations for its programming, including Borderlands for Equity, Detour Empowers (FANCY Teen Girls), Our Time to Act United, Southern Indian Health Council, The Blue Heart Foundation, and UC San Diego Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Spreading the Word about the Mobile Crisis Response Team
To better address behavioral crises in the community, The County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services built a Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) program designed to help people experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis by dispatching a team of behavioral health experts to emergency calls instead of law enforcement, when appropriate. In 2022, the Breaking Down Barriers team and partnering subcontractors informed over 15,000 individuals at nearly 400 locations throughout the county about the MCRT and/or alcohol or other drug misuses. The Breaking Down Barriers team worked with a diverse set of subcontractors who helped spread the message geographically and demographically, including organizations such as the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Anti-Poverty of San Diego County (MAAC), North County LGBT Center, Somali Family Service, STEAM Collaborative and The Blue Heart Foundation.

Moving Forward in 2023: Support for Afghan Refugees
Beginning this spring, the Breaking Down Barriers team will work with the nonprofit organization Borderlands for Equity to implement a recommendation from the County’s Behavioral Health Workgroup’s Afghan Taskforce to provide culturally sensitive and responsive community-based educational workshops. The goal of these workshops is to provide emotional support and prevent acute and chronic negative mental health outcomes in the growing Afghan refugee community. Materials will be available in Pashto, Dari, and Farsi.

JFS’s Breaking Down Barriers program is generously funded by the County of San Diego, Health and Human Services Agency. For more information, visit

About Jewish Family Service of San Diego – Moving Forward Together
Founded in 1918, Jewish Family Service (JFS) is one of San Diego’s most impactful nonprofit agencies – providing resources and support to over 70,000 people every year. Through integrated services, the organization empowers people of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds to overcome challenges, set goals, and build more stable, secure, and connected lives. JFS is committed to helping individuals and families move forward while developing innovative strategies to break cycles of poverty and strengthen our San Diego community.

To get help, volunteer or support JFS, visit or call (858) 637-3000.