ARTICLES, HEALTHY LIVING & WELL BEING. EATING DISORDERS, I NEED HELP: TEEN SUICIDE PREVENTION
An Interview With Jamie Tworkowski, Founder of ‘To Write Love on Her Arms’
To Write Love on Her Arms is a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.
Founded in 2006, their organization has since made a significant and marked impact not only on the mental health community as a whole but also on individuals all across the world.
To date, they have:
- Donated more than $2 million to treatment and recovery and granted funding to 105 unique organizations and counselling practices;
- Responded to more than 200,000 messages from people in over 100 countries around the world;
- Travelled more than 3.3 million miles to meet people in their communities and offer their support;
- Shared more than 1000+ blog posts from contributors letting others know they aren’t alone in their pain;
- And much, much more.
Boasting a following of more than 2 million people across their social networks, To Write Love on Her Arms is working every day to let people know that hope is real and that everyone can get the help they deserve.
SOS Safety Magazine had a chance to interview Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms and author of the New York Times bestselling book, If You Feel Too Much, about the incredible work his organization is doing, how people can offer empathy and support to those who need it most, and what it means to be open, vulnerable, and accepting enough to allow true healing in our lives to occur.
What exactly is TWLOHA and what would you define your mission as?
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.
TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.
What’s the story behind the name?
It was the title of the story I wrote about trying to help my friend Renee Yohe back in 2006. She struggled with self-injury and the title was essentially a goal, believing she deserved healing, sobriety, the chance to start again. She deserved love.
How does your organization aim to raise awareness for mental health issues?
The biggest thing we do is communicate. That’s how we spend most of our time. We do this on social media, through blogs and resources on our website, through emails and letters we respond to, and face-to-face at more than 100 events on the road each year, everything from music festivals to college campuses. We don’t really think of it as “awareness.” We’re trying to move people. We’re trying to let people know it’s okay to be honest and it’s okay to ask for help.
Does TWLOHA focus efforts on connecting directly with youth? If so, what have you found to be successful methods of connecting with them?
I wouldn’t say it’s a strategic focus of ours. I would say it comes naturally. We got our start on social media and there’s always been a connection to music, so we’ve connected with young people who love social media and young people who love music, since the very beginning. We’ve always had a young team as well. At the same time, we’re talking about issues that affect people of all ages. We love hearing from parents and grandparents. We’ve never tried to put walls up and say this is a project focused only on young people. These are issues that touch all kinds of people and we want to bring hope to all kinds of people.
Why do you think self-harm, addiction, and suicide are so pervasive in young people today?
A lot of reasons. Stigma would be at the top of the list. By that, I mean the feeling that if we struggle, we can’t talk about it and we can’t ask for help. Anxiety and stress. Bullying. Problems at home. Technology and social media. And then the way that all of these intersect and overlap. The problem of pain is nothing new but young people today certainly face new challenges because of technology and the way that social media and the internet never stop.
What advice would you offer someone who is currently struggling with depression, self-harm, and/or addiction?
First, to know that it’s okay to be honest and it’s okay to ask for help. Your pain isn’t something you need to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Millions of people struggle. It’s simply part of being human, just like physical health. Crisis Text Line is a great resource for anyone in crisis at any hour. Send a text to 741-741 and you’ll get a response from a trained crisis counsellor. It’s private and it’s free. Beyond that, we love to encourage people to connect with a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. I’m someone who struggles with depression and I go to counselling every week and it helps me so much.
What advice would you give to a family on how they should communicate or approach these topics with a family member they suspect is struggling with any of these issues?
My friend Aaron Moore is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and he talks about the need to balance honesty and compassion. Honesty means being willing to tell the truth, being willing to ask the hard questions. Compassion means making sure the person knows we love them, that our words and our concerns are coming from a place of love. I think this is great to keep in mind and I think it starts with being honest, expressing concern, checking in, asking questions. In terms of an action step, the hope is that our family member will get professional help, whether it’s talking to a doctor about medication or meeting with a professional counsellor or both. Treat it like a broken leg or a broken arm. The goal is to get the person in pain into the care of folks who specialize in dealing with that pain.
Do you have any suggestions on how someone can potentially try coping with depression?
For me, it’s a mix of going to counselling every week, taking my anti-depressant medication every night, and practicing self-care, which is everything from exercise to sleep to diet to doing things that make me smile. Having honest conversations with friends and family is important as well.
Music seems to play a significant role as a medium for you to raise awareness about these issues – why do you think music helps you spread your message and why do you think it’s so effective?
Music is allowed to be honest. We sing along to songs that express pain, questions, struggles and dreams. So we think there’s a lot of common ground between music and the conversation we’re trying to invite people into. And then strictly in terms of marketing, bands and artists have been incredibly generous with their influence. When an artist wears our shirt or shares TWLOHA on social media, their fans certainly respond. That’s been a huge part of our story, especially early on.
What’s the one thing you think could be done that would change the world the most?
Wow. That’s a great question. In the context of this conversation, I would say we have to continue to talk openly about mental health. When we talk openly about mental health, it gives other people the courage to do the same. That’s how the stigma begins to go away and that’s how we make it easier for people to get the help they need.
For anyone suffering, what do you think is the important message for them to hear?
You’re not alone. You matter. Your pain matters. Your future matters. It’s okay to be honest. It’s okay to ask for help. Please ask for help. You deserve it.
What advice would you give to young people who want to raise awareness and be part of the change?
It can be as small as buying a t-shirt or as big as moving to Florida to become an intern. We’re seeing a lot of people use Facebook to donate their birthday money. We actually have a whole section of our website dedicated to this question. Check out https://twloha.com/get-involved/
What do you want TWLOHA to mean to other people?
Hope. The possibility that things can change, things can get easier, things can better. Life is worth living. People need other people.
Do you have any projects/news/developments people should be looking out for? And where can people connect with your organization if they want to learn more?
I’m hosting a two-day workshop this month in Nashville. It’s called HEART CAMP and it’s basically a two-day conversation about authenticity, mental health, writing, self-care, and making an impact. You can learn more about it here: heartcampwithjamie.com
For the organization, we’re gearing up for the final summer of Vans Warped Tour. This tour has been a big part of our story for the last eleven years, so it’s bittersweet to see it come to an end. That said, we think it will be an epic summer with so many people coming out to say goodbye to Warped. We’re excited to be back on the road sharing hope and help with people. We’re also gearing up for World Suicide Prevention Day, which is September 10. We’ll be announcing a big campaign soon.