Imagine for a second that your close friend is struggling with addiction and self-injury. What would you do to help them? Anything in the world, right? This is precisely what happened to Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). This man went to the end of the world by single-handedly opening up an incredible non-profit mental health organization.
Fine, it wasn’t that simple, and that makes this story all the more astonishing. How do you go from writing a story in order to help cover mental health treatment for a friend, to starting such an impressive organization with chapters and campaigns all over the country? Sounds impossible…and yet, here they are. Flourishing. Helping thousands of people with mental illness. Clearly, we needed to find out the TWLOHA story in its entirety. We wanted to understand their humble beginnings, their growth, how they help communities, and everything in between.
TWLOHA (To Write Love On Her Arms) was started in 2006. Aside from being around for close to 15 years now, can you let us know its origins, how it was started, and how it became the resource that it is today?
To Write Love On Her Arms did not begin as a non-profit organization, but as friends helping another friend. Founder, Jamie Tworkowski wrote a story about a friend who struggled with addiction and self-injury, and the five days preceding her entry into treatment. The story, titled “To Write Love On Her Arms,” went viral, and t-shirts were initially made and sold as a way to pay for that friend’s treatment. Since then, TWLOHA has become a non-profit movement which serves as a bridge to hope and help for people facing similar struggles. This movement became what it is today because mental health is something that so many people haven’t had the space to talk about. Our hope is that everyone has the opportunity to have honest conversations about what they’re walking through, and can then find the help they deserve.
Your organization helps people find professional mental health assistance if they are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide, among several other mental illnesses. What is the advantage of using TWLOHA as their “go to” resource for mental health assistance?
Though we are not, and do not claim to be, mental health professionals, we act as a bridge for people who are struggling and the professional help they need. In doing so, we have expanded the “Find Help” tool on our website – which connects people to affordable resources in their area. We have also partnered with Crisis Text Line if people reach out to us and are urgently seeking help or need someone to talk to.
Our team believes in the power of community and openly discussing mental health issues, which is exactly what your organization focuses on. Can you please elaborate on some of the initiatives that echo this mentality?
We believe people need other people and having the ability to share our stories in a healthy way is one of the most rewarding things we can do. TWLOHA has initiated a variety of programs in an effort to expand that idea of community on a global level and create a safe space for people to be honest. MOVE Community Conference is a one-to-two day event where a licensed mental health counselor teaches a curriculum of topics in mental health. This is meant to educate and also to give practical ways for individuals to help those struggling and seek professional help.
For high school students, Between the Bells is a great way to get involved. This is a week-long interactive program designed for high school students to spark authentic conversations about mental health and to remind those struggling that they are not alone. We also have UChapters that encourage open conversations on college campuses. We also encourage people to reach out to others in their local communities, whether that looks like opening up to your family for the first time or attending a support group.
TWLOHA runs national campaigns in order to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. What’s involved, and what people can expect from them?
Each year, TWLOHA joins people around the world who are engaging in vital conversations about mental health and suicide prevention for National Suicide Prevention Week (NSPW) and World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) during the month of September. The most significant way people can get involved is by sharing social media posts, contributing financially to suicide prevention, and by simply having conversations with those around us. Last year, TWLOHA was able to raise $250,000 which provided 4,100 counseling sessions for people who are struggling. We also participate in several other events and campaigns to spread the message of hope and help in communities.
Your organization has established counseling scholarships in Central Florida for people who cannot afford mental health care. Due to the demand for this type of initiative, are there any plans to expand nationwide or to other cities or states? If so, can you let us know where and how you choose these locations?
Though we are based in Central Florida, applications for Treatment & Recovery Scholarships are accepted from all over, in seasonal cycles, on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on the demonstrated financial needs of an individual; therefore anyone is able to apply. However, if anyone is searching for a mental health provider, we encourage them to check out our FIND HELP tool.
Who writes for your blog and how what goes on behind the scenes in order to produce such incredible content?
Thank you so much for the encouraging words. We understand how impactful words can be and are glad to hear that the message of hope and help has resonated with your team. We encourage nearly everyone to submit a blog and share their story. Quite a bit of the staff have written blogs over the years, and we are honored to hear from supporters who are willing to share a part of themselves.
Regarding TWLOHA, where do you see your organization 5 years from now? What is your vision for the future of your organization?
Our hope is to live in a world where people can openly talk about their struggles, and find the help they need and deserve. Each time we host an event or post on social media, if one person is moved or impacted in any way, we have succeeded. Continuing to spread the message of hope and help to as many people as possible will continue to be the ultimate goal of TWLOHA.
Aside from donations, how can people get involved with TWLOHA?
There are a plethora of ways to get involved with TWLOHA and we encourage people from all walks of life to lean into the conversation of mental health awareness. A great and practical way of getting involved with the organization is sharing our posts on social media and wearing a t-shirt. A Supporter Benefit event is a one-time event with the opportunity to spread TWLOHA’s message of hope in your community and to raise funds in support of our mission. We also have an intern program that runs throughout the year, in three terms. We have 6-8 interns who volunteer their time for a term to help spread TWLOHA’s mission of hope and help to those who need it. These are all passionate individuals who come from all over the world to help us in our mission.
We also believe in embracing the upcoming generations, so getting involved with a UChapter or bringing Between the Bells is a great way to spread the message of hope and help to young people. As previously mentioned, MOVE Conference is our way of equipping and educating others about the topics like depression, self-injury, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, etc. The Run For It 5k is an opportunity to move for something that matters–whether that’s for health, recovery, or in memory of a loved one. We hope it will also be a chance to connect with your local community and share the message of hope and help in a new way. Participants can join the TWLOHA team in Satellite Beach, FL, or in their own community as part of the virtual race.