Jewish Mentor of the Month: Mental Health Professional, Sue Breitkopf

by Kendra Rubinfeld / May 24, 2021

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While arguably we should be aware of mental health all-year-round, this month gives us a chance to understand the many facets of the issue and how it affects people, societies, and systems. As a way to do just this, we thought we’d feature someone in the field for this month’s Jewish Mentor of the Month.

Meet Sue Breitkopf, the Director of Development and Marketing at Woodley House, a nonprofit housing and service provider for people with severe mental illness in DC. In this month’s edition of Jewish Mentor of the Month, we discuss how the pandemic inspired her to change careers, how the justice system and mental health are closely linked, and why gluten is bad. 

Get in touch with Sue via email or through Woodley House on IG.

Kendra: Where are you from and where do you live in the DMV now?

Sue: I grew up in New Jersey, spent my college years at Brandeis University, and moved to DC right after that. I’m not a native, but I’ve lived here far longer than anywhere else. 

Kendra: Why DC? 

Sue: I came here because my then boyfriend, now husband, was starting a career in politics and policy. I hated it for the first three years, but I eventually found an amazing and growing creative community. 

Kendra: What’s your dream day in DC, COVID aside?

Sue: I’d start out with a breakfast sandwich at Rise Bakery. For the gluten-intolerant, it’s huge for quality of life. From there I’d walk over to Current Boutique on 14th Street in search of the unique and well-made. As this is a dream day, my haul would magically appear in my closet and I wouldn’t have to carry it. Next on the agenda would be whatever large-scale, site-specific installation is happening at the Hirshhorn. Dinner would have to be at Izakaya Seki because Chef Seki’s intense concentration mesmerizes me. As I don’t have to have this follow along with reality, I would cap off the day at the now-shuttered Dwell DC for some weird punk music in a setting that is equally weird, as a fully off-the-grid carriage house in Northeast. 

Kendra: How do you relate to your Jewishness? 

Sue: I am deeply proud of being Jewish and love exploring our culture and my relationship with it. I am not very connected to the religious part, but I love going to services to commune with other Jewish people and our ancestors. 

Kendra: As you know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Can you tell us a bit more about what you do there and about Woodley House’s mission?  

Sue: Woodley House was founded in 1958 as an alternative to hospitalization for people with severe mental illness. We now provide housing and services for more than 300 people each year and operate the only food pantry west of Rock Creek Park. As the need is far greater than we can serve, we are working to expand our housing and look for other ways to advocate for mental health treatment in our community. As Director of Development and Marketing, I handle our fundraising, marketing, communications and advocacy. 

Kendra: You weren’t always in mental health though, right? What made you pivot?

Sue: I spent the bulk of my career working in arts and culture. I was always attracted to the work around social justice in that space. After the pandemic hit, I knew that I had to spend my professional hours more directly helping people. Woodley House’s mission of providing housing and services to those who often have no options struck such a chord with me.  

Kendra: Mental Health and racial justice are very closely linked. Many advocates are working to get the police out of crisis response due to the high numbers of police brutality and shootings involving citizens (most often Black) with mental health issues. Can you talk about how you’ve seen these two things linked and what you believe can be done about it? 

Sue: Our population of people living with severe and persistent mental illness are often targeted by police because of their sometimes-erratic behavior. NPR reports that nearly 25 percent of people killed by police officers have a diagnosed mental illness, and injuries are even more common. 

Black adults are more likely to have a mental illness than their white counterparts, and they are far less likely to receive the treatment they need. These facts are exacerbated by misconceptions in our community—not just those in law enforcement—about what mental illness looks like. Many equate behaviors like talking to oneself as dangerous, but most people with mental health disorders are not a danger to others. In fact, they are far more likely to be victims of crime. Our neighbors are often calling the police about non-threatening behavior of people with mental health disorders, potentially putting them in harm’s way. We at Woodley House want to change those misconceptions: Normalizing the full spectrum of mental illness helps those with mild symptoms as well as those on the severe end. 

Kendra: How can someone reading this become involved with the work at Woodley House and/or be a better advocate for mental health? 

Sue: So many ways! Look out for the launch of salon-style discussions on topics around mental health (policing and racial justice for starters), virtually and eventually in person. We also do Beautification Day at all four of our group houses and a semiannual food drive. Follow us on Instagram, sign up for our newsletter, and email us at development(at)! 

Kendra: What would you tell your 25-year-old self? 

Sue: Circuitous paths are what make people interesting. Never stop growing, questioning, or rejecting the status quo.

Kendra: When Jews of DC gather…

Sue:…There will ALWAYS be enough food, whether the gathering is for a death or a birth, and especially when breaking a fast. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.