Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, discusses the stigmas surrounding mental health and what we can do to help those who are still stuggling.
How did TWLOHA come to be?
When I met my friend Renee she was dealing with drug addiction, depression, and a history of self-injury. We later learned there had been suicide attempts previously in her life. She was denied entry into a local treatment center and spent the next five days with my friends and I. I ended up writing a story about that experience and the conversations we had. I gave it the title “To Write Love on Her Arms.” When I wrote the phrase “To Write Love on Her Arms” it was about Renee’s life and believing ultimately that she deserved better. I ended up posting that story on Myspace and I had the idea to print and sell t-shirts as a way to help pay for her treatment and everything grew from there. So many people could relate to Renee’s life.
Do you have advice for those struggling with mental health who are having trouble asking for help?
At the top of the list we put professional help, but I know that a lot of people may want someone to go with them when they take that first step. Maybe it’s reaching out to a friend or a family member, or if it’s a younger person reaching out to an adult they trust. Ultimately my advice would be to connect with a professional. If you break your arm your friend can really care but you’re going to have to get to a hospital because that’s where they fix broken arms. I think it’s a mix of professional health and knowing that we need a support system.
Why do you think there is so much stigma still surrounding mental health?
A lot of people have grown up in a world where these things are not talked about. Maybe they’ve grown up in a home, church, or school where they don’t talk about mental health. If you’re struggling you certainly don’t put a hand up and admit that, and yet there is more and more evidence of people choosing to be open and honest and that stigma begins to go away. Honesty is contagious, so if I say ‘I’m someone who struggles with depression,’ it makes it easier for you to do the same. It invites you to be open and really be human. There is still a stigma, but we’re so thankful to be some small part of pushing back at that and inviting people to know that it is okay to ask for help.