My name’s Hanna, mine’s Jaxon, and we’re seniors at Glencoe High School.
Jaxon: those of you who know us know that we’ve been friends for a long time but we got truly close in sophomore year when we were both going through a lot. In the ensuing time, our experiences with mental health have been closely linked and we’re here today to discuss the importance of friendship and support networks in promoting mental health.
Hanna: from initially supporting one another to now working together with an international nonprofit in promoting mental health awareness, Jaxon’s and my stories are closely linked.
Jaxon: back in sophomore year, i was dealing with the end an unhealthy relationship and my relationship with my father was hostile and contentious. I was stressed and isolating myself from my friends.
Hanna: at the same time, I was dealing with aftershocks of a death in my family and my existing mental health conditions were especially bad. I was having very severe panic attacks and struggling to stay afloat in areas that used to be easy for me, like school & my other volunteer work.
Jaxon and I had 5 classes together, so we were spending a lot of time with one another. Over a couple of months, we ended up opening up to each other about what we were coping with and I think it surprised us both how much it helped to have someone to talk to.
Jaxon: for the first time in a long time I opened up to someone new about what I was struggling with, and it helped me gain clarity and a new perspective
Hanna: having someone who listened to me and who I could be there for was good for my mental health.
Jaxon: throughout second semester, I was able to start standing up for myself and addressing unhealthy situations, turning the corner from a really dark time to productively handling my mental health.
Hanna: the second half of that year was a hard time for me. In the wake of the shooting at parkland, I was extremely anxious being in the building, fighting with some of the people closest to me, and overtaxing myself trying to stay caught up in school while also preparing for my TED talk and other activism work. I was fortunate enough to have a support system in place, but talking to Jaxon always especially helped
Jaxon: over the next two years as Hanna and I got closer I reconciled with my dad and started supporting some of my friends who were coping with their own mental health issues. Having Hanna to support me allowed me to help my friends more effectively.
Hanna: Junior and Senior year have had their fair share of ups and downs, but throughout it all I was learning to cope and handle my mental illnesses. I can’t overstate the importance of my support network in coping with what will likely be a lifetime’s journey.
Jaxon: we’ve both learned firsthand the importance of having a support network in place when your mental health is both good and bad. If Hanna hadn’t checked in on me and learned I was struggling, i would have had a much, much harder time coping with the struggles I was having.
Hanna: the story is the same for me. I struggle with isolating myself and feeling alone, but no matter what’s going on I know I always have someone looking out for me. The support of Jaxon and other people in my life has given me the courage to share my own story, and in working with ASHA International, the nonprofit we both are a part of, we’ve been able to reach thousands of people across the region.
Jaxon: Hanna also got me involved with ASHA, and with her encouragement, I’ve told my story in several schools, reaching over 1,000 students. We’ve seen firsthand the impact talking about mental health can have on our community, and hope to continue that work here at our school.
Hanna: not only has supporting each other helped us cope, it has also given us the courage to speak up and spark change across the community. Recovery is a process, and much of what I struggle with, I’ll struggle with forever. Mental health is a journey, and the support I’ve had from Jaxon and others has made the journey so much easier.
We encourage you to check in on all your friends, have meaningful conversations relating to mental health, and consciously build your own support network.
Jaxon: if we as a community support each other, we can beat stigma and grow to be mentally healthy, together. Thank you.
Art has always been a part of my life, from doodling as an infant to taking art classes throughout school I’ve always been creating something. But when my depression was at its peak, I found that I had no motivation to draw, lacked inspiration, energy, and it felt like I had lost such a fundamental piece of myself. Reflecting back, in some ways I think I had romanticized the idea of self-harm and saw it as another form of body art, as a “healthy” expression of my feelings.
Self-harm as a coping mechanism is addictive, and while I slowly began to realize how dangerous my behaviour was, like any addiction it was extremely difficult to stop. When this had been my go-to for so long, it seemed hard to imagine anything else working to help me deal with the dark thoughts that filled my mind daily.
Music was an outlet for me at the time. I had never really been musically inclined, but bands like Pierce the Veil and Bring Me the Horizon created songs with lyrics that explained exactly how I felt but didn’t know how to vocalize. Quickly, I became more and more captivated by the world of alternative music and these musicians became my role models. They candidly spoke about their own experiences as teenagers struggling with mental illnesses and within them I found a community.
Something most of these musicians had in common were their heavily tattooed appearances and I became almost obsessed with their body art. In a way, it reminded me of a more permanent version of “mehndi”, a type of Indian semi-permanent tattoo. It started off as me just doodling on my palm during class with a pen but I instantly noticed how creating these repetitive patterns calmed me down and distracted me. This then evolved to designing bigger and bigger pieces all over my arms with a Sharpie. Soon, this became my new go-to, at the slightest feeling of anxiety or an urge to cut, I would pull out a marker and begin to draw on myself.
Instead of becoming consumed with my restlessness, I would focus on just free drawing and making up different patterns and configurations. It helped me take my mind off whatever was bothering me at the time, and at the end I would have a piece of art and a sense of achievement. Cutting would only ruin the design I spent time creating and over time my dependency on self-harm shrank.
People began noticing my body art, and soon I took that interest and starting a mini “business” of doing mehndi/henna for different events and started selling prints of my designs at craft fairs. In the course of a year, I had taken my form of self-care and turned it into a way to make some extra money but more importantly, it re-connected me with my love for art. It sounds funny to say, but I started feeling “normal” again.
While, I wouldn’t say that art solved all my problems, it was my crutch to help me heal and move forward in a more positive way. I started gaining some of my confidence back and for that I am proud of myself. Getting to where I am now took a lot of hard work and art has been a vital part of the journey thus far.
Please see my artwork and story below.
We are still on cloud 9 after the incredible Grit & Grace Conference!
Thank you to all who attended and to all who bravely shared their stories. We once again thank our generous sponsors for making this event possible. And thanks to all our hardworking volunteers who gave their precious time to come together to create a community of connection, hope and healing.
Together, we are normalizing conversations about mental health and inspiring hope and healing, one story at a time. We can’t wait to see you all at the 2020 Grit & Grace Conference!
Thank you for your feedback! Here are a few we would like to share:
“Thank you so much. Being at Grit & Grace on Friday was powerful – I laughed so hard and felt such compassion and such connection with the women in the room. I’m at a loss for words to truly describe what I experienced and how important your message is for staff and for those in our service.”
“This conference was incredible! I can’t believe how at home I felt here! Thank you for creating such a special environment!”
“This conference was very much needed in my life especially at a time like this to help me move forward with my family and self-awareness.”
“This conference is amazing! This is my second and I hope to attend others. The speakers were amazing!”
“The presentations by Gayathri Ramprasad, Ebony Clarker and Melody Moezzi were particularly outstanding! I also appreciate the theme of health in the face of mental illness.”
Enjoy the videos & pictures from the Grit & Grace Conference!
According to a recent story by KATU reporter and ASHA Board member Genevieve Reaume, data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows white people have the highest rate of suicide in America, but many minorities are expressing grave concern over rising rates. If you take a broader look at suicide rates across cultures, it’s clear many communities are struggling to stop suicides.Younger Americans who’ve got roots across the globe say culture can impact the mental health discussion. Read more…
We are deeply grateful to our Youth Storyteller Yamini Rajan and her parents for sharing their perspectives.
At ASHA International, we are dedicated to empowering people living with mental health conditions and their families to share their stories to normalize the conversation about mental health, and give hope.
Thanks to KBOO Community Radio for recording and sharing the event. Please click here to listen to the stories.
And, thanks to each and every one of our sponsors for their generous support!
Photos from the event
Videos from the event
Awareness is key to addressing mental health conditions early and effectively.
Here are 12 questions all of us should ask about our mental health. Please share this checklist with your family, friends, and colleagues to start the conversation about mental health.
Stories connect and comfort us in our shared struggles, help us know that we are not alone, and give us HOPE to cope, survive and thrive. Personal stories have the power to save lives and create social change. On May 29, 2019, in celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, ASHA International is delighted to present the My Story My SUPERPOWER storytelling show to shine a light on mental health & end stigma one story at a time. A diverse group of storytellers will share their journey of courage, hope and resilience to increase public awareness of mental health as an integral part of overall health and well-being. The event will be held at the Intel Hawthorne Farms Auditorium (HF3), 5200 NE Elam Young Pkwy, Hillsboro, OR 97124, from 7 – 9 PM. Admission is FREE. To RSVP, please email email@example.com
Diane Kaufman, M.D.
Diane is a child psychiatrist, poet, lyricist, and artist passionate about helping people transform trauma into creative resilience. She is an Arnold P. Gold Foundation “humanism in medicine” awardee. Amongst Diane’s many creative works, her story, “Bird That Wants to Fly,” inspired a children’s opera by Michael Raphael, performed by Trilogy: An Opera Company, and narrated by the actor, Danny Glover.
Diane suffered trauma starting at a very young age, and experienced episodes of anxiety, depression, hypomania, mania, and suicidal ideation. She graduated magna cum laude and phi beta kappa from Mount Holyoke College. While attending Downstate Medical Center, Diane attempted suicide and required hospitalization. She went on to complete internship, residencies and fellowship (pediatrics, psychiatry and child psychiatry) at New York University/Bellevue Hospital.
Prior to her moving to Portland, Oregon in 2014, Diane was an outpatient child psychiatrist for twenty-eight years at UMDNJ, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark (now Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences). She was Assistant Professor at New Jersey Medical School and was Medical Director of both Preschool Services and the Crisis Intervention Mobile Outreach Program. Diane secured many grants on behalf of children’s well-being, such as Parents are People Too!, a parenting and child abuse prevention program rated “exemplary” by the Children’s Trust Fund. Diane also initiated UMDNJ’s Poetry in Medicine Day, inspired Creative Arts Healthcare, and developed the Cry of the Heart poetry contest.
Upon her move to Oregon, Diane initially worked as a child psychiatrist at Morrison Child and Family Services in Portland. Since November 2016, she provides child psychiatry care and treatment at Mind Matters, PC in Hillsboro. Diane is the Founder of Arts Medicine for Hope and Healing. For more information, please see www.artsmedicineforhopeandhealing.com Diane serves on the Board of ASHA International, and is an ASHA Storyteller dedicated to changing the culture around mental health in the medical community.
John Boylston, J.D.
John Boylston is an attorney, not in spite of his mental health condition, but potentially because of it. John was not diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Dysthymia until he had already been practicing law for a few years. Upon seeking treatment and learning of his diagnosis, however, John realized that he had been suffering most of his life.
Lawyers are hired to examine every detail, think ten steps ahead, and see potential risks that others might miss. But John realized that he couldn’t “turn it off” when he went home for the day. He was being suffocated by the anxiety. It got so debilitating that he was ready to quit his job and leave everything behind, but he agreed to see a counselor first. After two years of regular therapy and medication for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Dysthymia, John manages his anxiety, but it is something he will always live with and it still affects his daily life.
Attorneys suffer from mental health conditions at twice the rate of the general public, and as a result experience substance abuse at significantly higher rates as well. It is often hard and complicated for attorneys to address mental health conditions, because there are elements of anxiety that are seen as a good trait in a lawyer. John wants to raise awareness about mental health conditions for attorneys, and other professionals, so that they can learn how to separate themselves from their work while learning healthy habits to combat the excess stress and anxiety that comes with the profession. He is also passionate about encouraging young people who have mental health conditions to still strive for challenging professional careers.
John serves on the Board of ASHA International, and is an ASHA Storyteller dedicated to changing the culture around mental health in the legal community.
Molly Van Der Werf
Molly was born and raised in Portland, OR. After starting high school at a public school there was a huge shift in her life. She didn’t know many people there, and started using drugs and alcohol as a social crutch to make friends. This quickly turned in to substance abuse, and she struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. High school was a hard time for her; she was using every day, skipping class and almost didn’t graduate. At the end of high school, the sudden passing of her father sent her in to a deep depression for years. She went to therapists and psychiatrists in order to get help and be properly medicated, however nothing seemed to work. She continuously struggled to keep a job and spent most of her time sleeping. Things spiraled out of control when she was 22 and had a manic episode. She was delusional with grandiose thoughts and impossible realities. None of the people in her life knew what was going on. She was finally hospitalized and diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. After she was stabilized, she went in to outpatient treatment for mental health recovery and was given proper medication. She has been stable for 5 years now and is proud to say she has not had another manic episode.
Her goal is to educate teens and young adults about mental health and teach them about self-care and the importance of speaking up and seeking help. Many teens and young adults suffer from a mental illness and use drugs and alcohol to cope. This can be so detrimental and even lethal. She wants to break the stigma and bring hope to those who are suffering. There are others ways of coping and healing besides drugs and alcohol. Creating a safe and open dialogue with people is so important. By telling her story she hopes that it will encourage and empower others to feel comfortable to tell their story. There is peace of mind and success out there for those who are suffering. She wants to be the living proof that recovery is possible.
Molly is an ASHA Storyteller dedicated to empowering youth take charge of their mental health and well-being.
Austin joined the United States Marine Corps right after graduating high school. Joining the military was something he wanted to do, but the further into his service he got, the more he struggled. His struggles with depression first began when two of his military friends died.
Austin was raised in a loving family. His mom, dad and brother all helped provide a supportive base for him, and when it became clear his pain was too much, they helped fight to get him home.
While trying to learn how to cope with his mental illness, Austin went back to school and work, taking a job at Pepsi, and then moving onto a different job at Intel. He was commuting long hours from Kelso to Hillsboro, and although he was on a strong path, an unexpected tragedy halted that. Another good friend of his died serving. And, Austin didn’t know how to cope with it. The trauma of the losses, in combination with his depression, became too much.
Austin decided he would take his life on Jan. 9, 2018. Just before 5 o’clock that night, he sent out a tweet. ‘Hey, I need somebody to talk to.” A friend saw his tweet, reached out to him, and then his family. And, ended up saving his life. Now, Austin wants to share his story to help de-stigmatize mental health, and advocate for people reaching out to help each other.
Dave, a 24-year NIKE, Inc. veteran, has served in several leadership roles across sales, merchandising and footwear product creation, including four years with the Jordan Brand and an overseas assignment in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He currently serves as a Global Vice President of Footwear, working in the NSW category on AirMax products.
Before coming to NIKE, Dave spent five years in sports media relations and marketing, including stops at the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Rams. He’s a graduate of the University of Arizona and has taken coursework at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, with a focus on leadership.
Dave and his wife, Tory, have two teenagers at home. In his spare time, Dave enjoys traveling, sports, motorsports, music and movies. He’s involved in mentoring programs at his alma mater and with NIKE, and partners with Tory to elevate mental health awareness, with a focus on young people in the Portland community.
In early 2015, Roule’s founder, Paul, was in an unhealthy place. The previous year he saw the end of his nine-year marriage and lost his best friend since childhood in a car accident on Christmas Eve. He poured himself into his work thinking that the creative outlet and his drive to succeed would sustain him. Instead, he had a minor heart attack according to a blip on an EKG. He was overcome by stress from both life and work and didn’t know how to manage it all. Paul was depressed. He felt hopeless. He just felt done.
After some strong encouragement to get outside and exercise, he decided to dust off his neglected road bike and go for a ride. It was slow and painful. He was embarrassed to realize how unhealthy he had become after being active and athletic his entire life. But he noticed something positive amidst the physical struggles—cycling was helping Paul decompress, clear his mind, and manage his depression.
Added bonus: His physical health rapidly improved in a matter of months.
As when he first learned to ride as a child, Paul was again hooked by the beauty and freedom of cycling. Learn more at https://www.roulecycling.com/
Lilly Glass Akoto, LCSW
Lilly is an enthusiastic hiker, a competitive tabletop gamer, and an unabashed adventurer. As a licensed clinical social worker, she is passionate about helping the hurting find avenues and ways to heal. She believes in the power of the journey and understands it is not the end result that matters as much as the steps taken. She sees the beauty in the most broken and carries a beacon of hope in the darkest seasons.
Her passion comes from the lessons learned in her own story of brokenness to wholeness. As a young, brown, adopted girl growing up in Massachusetts, it was easy to fall in to the lies that “she was different”. Depression was her constant companion for nearly 30 years. Her struggle with lack of confidence, sense of worthlessness and failed suicide attempts came to a welcome end in 2008 when she worked with an EMDR therapist and her life completely changed. Her mind was set free, her heart was restored and she began her walk as a strong, independent and confident woman.
In 2015, her husband of 22 years, passed from cancer. She and her two boys have been on healing journeys since that time. The greatest gift from her loss has been that Lilly found herself and fell in love with whom she found. She now lives her life as an accomplished mental health therapist, avid hiker, passionate dancer, table top gamer, and amazing mom. She loves to share her story because she sees the power it has to help others realize they are not alone. She loves to teach and impart wisdom as it warms her soul to see people transform.
She embraces all that life has to offer as she lives by one simple truth…we are here on this earth, and then one day, we are not! Learn more at http://lilocounseling.com/
Erin San Antonio
As a first generation Filipino-American, Erin understood at a young age what having a mental illness meant when coming from an immigrant family. As a child, you are often taught that mental illnesses are things to be ashamed of. This is why after struggling with depression, anxiety, and self-harm for almost a decade in silence, Erin is choosing to take a stand by sharing her story in the hopes of bringing awareness towards mental health and intergenerational trauma.
By doing so, she hopes to impact others with an emphasis on communities of color, women, and those within her Asian Pacific Islander (API) community, to speak up and reach out for help in order to reframe how people think about mental health and normalize dialogues that encompass the lived experiences of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and trauma.
Adam is currently a PhD student working on getting his doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. His research interests are how and why depression begins to emerge, especially within adolescents. Unsurprisingly, his research interests are a direct result of many of the mental health struggles he faced while growing up and into early adulthood. Throughout Adam’s life, Adam has experienced multiple episodes of severe depression and anxiety, but now uses those experiences to help him both as a researcher and a clinician in training.
He is passionate about understanding the causes of depression in order to design interventions that can help prevent people from experiencing mental health disorders before they occur. He is also passionate about helping those around him realize that there is hope for a better life, and they are not alone in their struggles. He also believes that a central component of helping those struggling with mental health issues is being open about the impacts of mental health issues. He hopes that sharing his story will reduces the stigma associated with these disorders and increase the chances that the people that need help the most will realize that there is hope and they can reach out and find it.
From the outside looking in, Natalie had an idyllic childhood. She had an active and busy social life filled with soccer, dance recitals and girl scout meetings. She had a diverse group of friends and a family that loved and supported her. Although she could have been described as shy or introverted, her friends probably thought of her as a “normal”, carefree child. But even at that young age she was experiencing sensory issues, generalized anxiety and OCD.
Her parents helped her in every way they knew and brought her to specialists to help give her the skills she needed to thrive. She persevered, still occasionally scared to face the simplest situations. But by middle school, her anxiety was beginning to play a bigger part in her daily life.
During the fall of eighth grade, when she was 13 years old, she was diagnosed with depression. In the months following, anxiety and depression started to take over her life, making attending school nearly impossible at times. Through the help of family, friends, and her therapist along with medical support, she is thriving as a current high school student. Anxiety and depression are still present in her life, but she hopes to use her story to bring awareness to mental health issues and encourage others to seek help.