To Write Love on Her Arms founder speaks at Illini Union

Depression, addiction and suicidal thoughts weighed heavy in the minds of students and community members Tuesday evening.

Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms, or TWLOHA, spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 at the Illini Union about depression and suicide prevention. The presenation and lecture was hosted by the Illini Union Board and To Write Love on Her Arms – UIUC, a registered student organization serving as the University’s chapter of the national organization.

“It’s such a privilege to talk about things people tend not to talk about,” Tworkowski said.

He discussed the isolation felt by many and the importance of finding true friends.

“You deserve people who know those parts of your story, who know the good stuff and who know the bad stuff,” he said. “It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to be honest.”

He said his organization began in 2006 after a friend who was struggling with suicidal thoughts inspired him to share her story, primarily through social networking sites.

To date, the organization has hundreds of thousands of followers and has responded to more than 170,000 messages about depression originating in over 100 countries.

Tworkowski admitted that sometimes friends can only offer so much help. He and his organization also advocate the use of counseling along with a positive circle of friends.

Jason Dompeling, president of the University’s chapter, said his organization’s main goal is to raise awareness of depression and suicidal thoughts, but it also advises students in finding the help they need.

“We are not a self-help group,” said Dompeling, junior in ACES. “We direct people toward resources.”

When students reach out to his organization, he said they are then referred to campus offices such as the Counseling Center or McKinley Health Center’s mental health clinic. Tworkowski’s visit to campus has been one of the University chapter’s primary goals since opening two years ago, Dompeling said. He heard about To Write Love on Her Arm’s impact on other college campuses at the time and hopes that Tuesday’s talk will give the University’s chapter exposure to help it grow and encourage students to “wake up” about depression and self-harm.

“We all experience pain. We all run into questions,” Tworkowski said. “We aren’t meant to carry this stuff by ourselves.”

Sarah Rodriguez, sophomore in AHS, had known about To Write Love on Her Arms but first learned about the University’s chapter on Tuesday evening. She said because everyone has their own struggles at some point in their lives, it is vital that the University offers help services.

“It’s easy to slip in between the cracks now and then,” Dompeling said. “There are people out there willing to listen to you and talk to you.”