asha international mental health

We Give Hope

Creating art helped me cope with depression and self-harm.

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.







Thank you for joining us at the Celebration of Hope!

Thank you to everyone who attended the Celebration of Hope on October 24th. It was an inspiring night filled with stories of courage, hope and resilience. We raised just over $40,000 to support our mission to normalize conversations about mental health and inspire hope and healing, one story at a time. We are most grateful to each and every one of our donors for their valuable support.
If you were not able to attend the event, please consider making a gift and join our Circle of Hope. To donate, please click here …
We welcome gifts of any size and sincerely appreciate your generous support.
Enjoy the video and pictures…

Event Photos

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2019 Grit & Grace Conference – WOW!

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!

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Kids work to change cultural perceptions of mental health

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. 

My Story My SUPERPOWER Storytelling Show was a huge success!

Thanks to everyone who attended our My Story My Superpower Storytelling Show on May 29th. What an inspiring event! It was an evening of laughter, tears and breaking down stereotypes. We are so grateful for our amazing storytellers who shared their mental health journey.
Sharing stories about mental health is hard, and at times, uncomfortable. Molly even asked the crowd if her story made them uncomfortable. She shared that there has never been any positive change without people feeling a little uncomfortable.
Dave’s story of how his family has managed his young daughter’s anxiety was moving. Each day may bring its own challenges but we must reflect that we all have things to be thankful for. He shared a quote, taken from the Berlin Wall that is now tattooed on his arm and provides him strength day to day.
“Right now, someone is dreaming of living your life.”
Mental health affects us all. Sharing stories is the best way we know to give hope.
With your support we are able to shine a light on mental health and end the stigma, one story at a time.
Please consider making a gift today to support ASHA International. Your contribution will allow us to bring our message of hope and well being to more people at school, in the workplace and in our community. Please click here to Give the Gift of Hope today!
Here is feedback from people who attended the event:
“The program last night was amazing. My daughter kept turning to me saying “that’s me!”. She just started seeing an anxiety therapist and with our family therapy she is really finding her voice. It’s so great to watch her open up around her challenges and last night added so beautifully to these efforts. Thanks for extending the invite!”
“I just wanted to say congratulations on a successful event last Wednesday night! What a great turn out – and wonderful stories, of course. I brought my daughter Annie with me, a recent nursing school grad, and she really was moved by so many of the stories as well.”
“Dave, I want to say thank you for sharing your incredible story. I was moved by your presentation and loved how you were able to discuss mental health in a broader way, to include the entire family. We are really lucky to have you. I know what you are doing can help change the stigma around mental health in the workplace. I’ve heard from many people in similar, high-stress jobs (including those at Nike), who talk about the grind and the pressure and the impact it can have outside of work. Without people’s bravery in talking about it, nothing will change. So again, thank you from the bottom of my heart. There are a TON of businesses who could greatly benefit from hearing your story.”

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

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Videos from the event

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

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. 


Meet Our Storytellers

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                                                

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 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 Kastner

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 Schechter

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.


Paul Wroblewski

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  


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


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 Pettitt

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.


Natalie Robinson

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.

Youth share their mental health stories to shatter stigma

Thanks to our youth storytellers BekahYaminiMolly and Hanna for sharing their mental health stories in six high schools this year, and giving hope to 1,200 students. Together, they are shining a light on mental health and ending stigma, one story at a time. Read more…
Thanks to Genevieve Reaume and her team at KATU for featuring our Let’s Talk About Mental Health Program as part of their Kind is Better Campaign.
And, our deepest gratitude to the 94 students who sent us hand-written thank you notes like the one above. You inspire us in our mission!
Youth share their mental health stories in an attempt to shatter the stigma
Saving Lives Through Stories: ASHA founder & President Gayathri Ramprasad's story
If you are interested in scheduling our Let’s Talk About Mental Health Program in your high school, college or university, to start a conversation about mental health and wellbeing, please email

Stories Change Lives

Most American teenagers — across demographic groups — see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found. The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue. 
At ASHA International, our youth Storytellers are dedicated to sharing their stories to give hope and let their peers know they are not alone, and encourage them to get the help they need to recover and thrive. Together, we are creating a safe space where students can talk about their struggles and support each other with empathy and compassion.
Here is feedback from students about our Let‘s Talk About Mental Health Program at local high schools in February:
“Right now, I’m going through something really hard. But the presentations have convinced me that recovery is possible and I can get over it.”
“Very inspiring! As a person struggling with anxiety, this program was very uplifting & safe.”
“I’ve been struggling with my mental health for years and never asked for help and like the storyteller said – she tried to commit suicide and nobody knew – that’s what happened to me. The storytellers made me realize in order to feel better, I must seek help.”
“Some of my friends are dealing with mental illnesses and the presentation gave me a different view on it, and how to help them.”
“I went to the same middle school as the Storyteller, and it is comforting to know that there are people at my school who can help me with my problems.”
“The personal stories were very inspiring and impactful than everything else.”
“The storytellers reminded me that I am not alone, and provided me with new resources.”
“The stories closely related to events in my life, and helped encourage me to continue to try to put effort into improving my mental health.”
“I go through a lot of anxiety and depression. And, this presentation really helped me open up to the people I trust.”
“I appreciated the presentation because I have always wondered why we don’t discuss the most “teenage” things – relationships, drugs, emotions, and how it is hard to deal with sometimes. Thanks for giving it a voice.”
“It was very beneficial to hear the stories of the struggles the storytellers went through. Each story had an element that resonated with me. I could see people breathing a sigh of relief that they were not alone. I think the program should be presented in all schools, especially middle schools.”

By talking about our mental health openly, we can make a huge impact. Join us in shattering the stigma! 

We are giving hope & changing lives

We are delighted to share that the New Year was off to a great start!
In January, our Storytellers reached nearly 500 students at local high schools through our Let’s Talk About Mental Program. Here is some of the heartwarming feedback:
“This presentation showed me that everything gets better and to never lose hope. Also, it helped me realize my resources and showed me that I’m never alone.”
“I used to feel suicidal, and have autism, and anxiety. This presentation taught me ways to positively cope with them and not be afraid to speak up and talk to others about my mental health.”
“I found that hearing other people’s stories helped me feel normal and know that there is hope.”
“Because I have dealt with mental health issues a lot in the past, it was nice to hear other people’s stories and how they got better.”
“You provided a safe place where people could ask questions if they didn’t understand. Also, in each story, I connected to at least one thing. This program needs to be presented at every school!”
We are most grateful for the ninety-four hand-written thank you letters from the students at Century High School.
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