Photo credit to msu.edu
Spreading hope and combatting silence
"The vision is that we actually believe these things: You were created to love and be loved. You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know your story is important, and you're part of a bigger story. You need to know your life matters." This is the mission statement of To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), a non-profit movement dedicated to reducing depression, addiction, self-harm, and suicide.
While the movement is powerful, the name may be deceiving. TWLOHA is about more than scrawling the word "love" on forearms with a sharpie. Instead, TWLOHA is an everyday movement dedicated to removing silence and uncertainty and promoting hope. The idea for the name TWLOHA is that answering the question "Why do you have love written on your arm?" is a conversation starter and an opportunity to spread hope and mental health awareness.
In 2006, founder Jamie Tworkowski of Orlando, Florida documented a friend's struggle with addiction and self-harm, launching the TWLOHA movement. Today, high schools and colleges across the Nation belong to active TWLOHA chapters dedicated to spreading awareness and support. In Minnesota, the only active TWLOHA chapter is at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
"We don't have that on campus, but we do have a mental health awareness group," said Dean of Students Megan Perry-Spears. "I'd definitely be open to starting something like that. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to start it, but if a student wanted to go about starting a group like that, I'd definitely be open to it."
According to the TWLOHA official website, active chapters, called Uchapters, serve as a network of students and organizations dedicated to serving as a voice of hope, inspiration, and support to their community.
"We live in a difficult world, a broken world. We believe everyone can relate to pain, all of us live with questions, and all of us get stuck in moments. You need to know you're not alone in the places you feel stuck," wrote Tworkowski, "We all wake to the human condition. We wake to mystery and beauty, but also to tragedy and loss. Millions of people live with problems of pain. Millions of homes are filled with questions-moments, and seasons, and cycles that come as thieves and aim to stay. We know pain is very real. It is our privilege to suggest that hope is real and help is real."
According to Perry-Spears, the idea of a recovery movement can be concerning.
"There've been studies that show suicide hotlines and health hotlines don't work as well as people think," she said. "Their numbers are concerning. But support and awareness groups, that's different."
While CSS doesn't have an active TWLOHA chapter, Perry-Spears said there are a variety of other options regarding mental health and self-help. These resources include the CSS counseling program and Amberwing, a hope for youth program specialized in dealing with mental health and substance abuse in teens and young adults. The Duluth Amberwing is located on Rice Lake Road, less than 3 miles from CSS.
Even without having an active chapter in Duluth, the community is able to participate in the TWHOLA movement by joining TWLOHA's street team, a primarily virtual support group that reaches out to those struggling with mental health and substance abuse.
"We know the first step toward recovery is the hardest to take. We want to say here that it's worth it, your life is worth fighting for, it's possible to change," wrote Tworkowski. "Beyond treatment, we believe community is essential. People need other people. We were never meant to do life alone."