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‘To Write Love on Her Arms’ founder speaks

| Sunday, October 12, 2014

Notre Dame’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) closed Irish State of Mind week Friday afternoon with guest speaker Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the nonprofit organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), and singer Steven McMorran, lead singer of the alternative rock band Satellite.

NAMI-ND president Maggie Skoch said TWLOHA has gained national prominence through social media and coverage on NBC Nightly News, CBS Sunday Morning, MTV and Rolling Stone Magazine.

“Founded by Jamie Tworkowski in 2006, 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,” she said. “TWLOHA has given over $1 million directly to treatment and recovery.”

Tworkowski, who invited McMorran to open the event with music, said the group almost always begins with music.

“We believe that… [music] has the unique ability to remind us, all of us, that we’re alive, it’s okay to feel things, it’s okay to ask questions,” Tworkowski said.

McMorran played guitar and sang several songs from Satellite’s 2013 album “Calling Birds,” prefacing each with a brief statement of its connection to personal obstacles. After about 30 minutes, Tworkowski took the stage.

“Normally I feel like it’s implied, when someday stands in the front of the room, or on the stage, and they have a microphone, it’s implied that he or she, this person, has some answers,” Tworkowski said. “But I think … in a way, these events are more about the questions than answers.

“I think what a lot of us need … [isn’t answers, but] just some other person, or maybe a small group of people who might meet us in our questions and tell us, remind us, show us that we are not alone in those places, especially those places that hurt … where I think we buy into some lies that suggest that we’re alone, especially if it’s something we haven’t talked about.”

Tworkowski shared his personal experiences with mental health issues, the founding and growth of TWLOHA and statistics on mental illness in America.

“Two out of three people who struggle with depression, they never get help for it,” he said. “The majority of people who live in this place, they live alone.”

Whether or not an individual pursues professional counseling, community is paramount to moving through the tough times, Tworkowski said.

“People need other people,” he said. “You and I, we find ourselves on this planet in a way where we are wired to know people and love people, to be known and to be loved.

“When it comes to our pain and the stuff we’re not sure about, the stuff we’re not proud of, the tendency is to isolate, to hide out. … You just don’t want to talk to anyone, you don’t want to be seen, but we’ve come to believe that it doesn’t matter how busy you are, introvert, extrovert, what your major is, how you’re wired — that community, that support system, that group of friends is something we all need and deserve.”

Junior Michael Dinh said he felt the event was the perfect conclusion to the week.

“Hearing TWLOHA founder Jamie Tworkowski share his experiences in helping people fighting against depression, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide was an enlightening and inspiring opportunity,” he said. “Many of our fellow students at Notre Dame face these challenges during their time here, and we all have the chance to be their light in dark times.”

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