Editor's note: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call for help now. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a free service answered by trained staff 24 hours per day, every day. The number is 1-800-273-8255 or text 273TALK to 839863. The Oregon YouthLine is also available at 877-968-8491.
Late last year, Dr. Diane Kaufman was inspired to write.
Patients were telling the Hillsboro-based child psychiatrist they were feeling depressed.
But many of them, Kaufman would eventually learn, weren't being completely forthcoming about the extent of their feelings and even attempts at suicide.
Stories Kaufman heard led her to write an essay, in which she asks people to confront why there's a persistent stigma around mental illness that it's not as real or worthy of treatment as, say, a heart attack.
"Why do we insist on thinking our brain is not part of our body and act so differently when our brain health is at risk?" Kaufman's essay asks.
But Kaufman didn't stop at writing an essay. She was further inspired to write a song, "Don't Give Up," to provide comfort and support to people who are struggling with mental health.
Kaufman collaborated with singer/songwriter Mia Stegner and producer Raymiah Jackson on the song, which was released in May. A poem Kaufman wrote formed the basic for the lyrics, which Stegner — the vocalist on the recording — set to a melody and complemented with a chorus.
Kaufman practices at Mind Matters PC in Hillsboro, where she also founded and directs the Arts & Healing Resiliency Center. She encourages her patients to create art as a means of healing and therapy.
The song is part of a new mental health campaign with the same title as her essay, "If My Words Could Make A Difference."
It's a partnership with ASHA International, a Beaverton-based nonprofit, where Kaufman is a board member, empowering people to share their stories to normalize conversations about mental health.
The campaign, which is funded by the Oregon Council of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, seeks to end the shame and stigma around mental health challenges. It gives youth an opportunity to submit creative works such as paintings, poems or songs with ideas about how to better address their mental health needs.
In Oregon, suicide is the leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, the second-leading cause of death for those ages 25 to 34 and the third-leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 44.
Especially considering those statistics, mental health challenges should not be kept in the dark, Kaufman said.
Art "serves a healing purpose," Kaufman said. "It's a container for the experiences. And even though maybe something painful and awful is still painful and awful, if you can render it in a certain way, there can be some kind of a beauty to it."
Artistic expression — whether it be the many poems, songs, children's books, inspirational posters and other works Kaufman has created — has been a source of comfort ever since Kaufman had a mental health crisis of her own, she says.
She experienced trauma at an early age and suffered from anxiety and depression. As an adult, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
While studying at the Downstate Medical Center in New York, Kaufman attempted suicide. She ended up in the hospital.
Her own experiences and work led her to write the children's book "Bird That Wants to Fly" in 2014.
The book inspired an opera, for which she partnered with Trilogy: An Opera Company and Academy Award nominee Danny Glover as narrator.
Kaufman has also authored "15 Poems to Healing and Recovery;" the picture book "Missing Mommy," which was prompted by her encounter with a young child whose mother was murdered; and "Three Objects Spoke To Me," a story about being lost and found again in life.
Kaufman says she continues to derive inspiration through observing her patients come to terms with trauma by creating art.
Oftentimes, the creative process of using art to think about one's experiences allows people to come to realizations about themselves and ways to cope with challenges, she said.
"It's the birth of something new," Kaufman said. "I feel a happiness participating in that or helping that to happen."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to note vocalist Mia Stegner's role in co-writing the song "Don't Give Up."
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