TWLOHA founder encourages others to 'stay' around to write their life stories

Jamie Tworkowski speaks at the Jorgensen Theater on September 27, 2017, addressing the problem of depression and suicide. The founder of of To Write Love On Her Arms talks about managing emotions and hanging on for another day. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

For every three individuals battling mental illness, only two actively seek help. Imagine if this were the case for those battling the flu or in need of medical attention for a broken limb. This is the surprising statistic Suicide Prevention Week keynote speaker and To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) founder, Jamie Tworkowski, presented to his audience members in the Jorgensen Center on Thursday night.

Co-sponsored by CMHS and SUBOG, members of these organizations planned a week-long list of events and presentations to get more students involved with the conversation of suicide prevention and to offer a source of comfort and help for those in need.

Before the talk began, the lights cut to black and TWLOHA’s 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day video played on the screen. It opened with a striking statistic stating 800,000 individuals die of suicide each year, but was followed by enlightening and encouraging messages from celebrities, musicians, YouTubers and just ordinary people on the organization’s theme of “Stay.” The video closed with a girl saying she “was made for a reason, and I don’t quite know what it is yet, but I’m gonna be here to find out.”

This ending quote was the foundation to Tworkowski’s discussion. He emphasized TWLOHA’s theme of “Stay” possesses a multi-dimensional meaning for their supporters. Tworkowski said that “Stay” was a theme chosen to encourage those facing difficult times to stay and fight through hardships, but to also note that “stay” is symbolic of the hard times and places you are not obligated to “stay” in.

It’s okay to be honest about your feelings, your pain, your questions … to say it’s not okay
— Jamie Tworkowski

The journey to find inner peace was another point Tworkowski made. “What does it look like to love yourself?” Tworkowski asked. For Tworkowski and one of his close friends, who both regularly deal with the side-effects of depression, it means to “throw everything [they] can at the dark and pain in life,” by appreciating the little things, which eventually become a source of self-care.

With the courage Tworkowski has every day to stand up and overcome the mental illness stigma, both as an activist and someone currently living with depression, he has encouraged thousands of people from over 100 countries around the world to do the same.

TWLOHA was an organization that started as a small deed to help a friend in need. Twelve years ago, Tworkowski and friends tried to find a creative way to raise money to help their struggling friend get into treatment. Tworkowkski designed a line of t-shirts and shared his friend’s story on MySpace. Very shortly after, Tworkowski’s small fundraising project became a world-wide project to help not only his friend, but the over 20,000 people who had been writing to Tworkowski through MySpace, email and letters.

Still, as one of the leading organizations for suicide prevention, Tworkowski and his team continue to ensure others that “It’s okay to be honest about your feelings, your pain, your questions … to say it’s not okay.”

For Tworkowski’s friend Steven McMorran, who was welcomed to the stage to perform a musical set, his most honest moments come from writing music.

“Music is allowed to be honest,” McMorran said. “Music is just a means to tell someone your story. Your favorite song has lyrics that resonate with you connect to your story.”

The songs McMorran performed were those symbolic to personal or important moments of his life to encourage the audience to do the same: to be vulnerable enough to share your own story and look forward to what is still to come.

Tworkowski finished with an entry he wrote just after the passing of actor and comedian Robin Williams. The piece was called “There is Still Some Time” and rather than being a reflection on his feelings after finding out about the loss, he wrote to the individuals who can relate to the pain Williams had battled throughout his life.  

As the founder of an organization that can serve as a silver lining or safe haven for some, Tworkowski says that through TWLOHA, he hopes “to build a bridge to help people into [recovery]” and know that “whatever change you’re in need of is within reach.”

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

UConn Center for Mental Health Services: 860-486-4705


Lucille Littlefield is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lucille.littlefield@uconn.edu.