Jamie Tworkowski is the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). He began the program when he and some others raised money to get a friend the treatment that she needed. Odds are, you or your friends can relate to this. On the Web site, Tworkowski wrote a message: “TWLOHA is a non-profit campaign for people struggling with issues of pain – mainly depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. We aim to connect people with help, to present facts about these issues, and, more than anything, to present hope creatively and tastefully. We let people know it’s okay to talk about these things, and they’re certainly not alone if they deal with these issues.”
According to the annual report, statistics show approximately 31,000 Americans commit suicide each year. The report said that suicides are largely under-reported and statistics do not show the impact on survivors and communities. The annual report is printed on the Web site, www.hopeline.com/annualreport.pdf
Tworkowski works with suicide hotlines to give people hope when they ask for it. “Pick up the phone” refers to calling the suicide hotline to get help. The national hotline, 1-800-SUICIDE, has been in operation and saving lives for the last ten years. There is also a hotline for Spanish speakers, 1-800-SUICIDA. Web sites are available, such as www.hopeline.com/pickupthe phone.
When the hotline first began, there were about 300 phone calls a month. It increased to 2,000 callers a day and now there are 50,000 callers per month. Over the last 10 years, there have been 4,000 inventions of high risk suicides. Many of the callers were traced to where they were calling from and given medical attention.
TWLOHA sells products to raise money to pay for the hotline phone bills. This includes shirts, hoodies, bags, belts, bracelets, and other accessories. Some people will write ‘love’ on their arm to support others that suffer from depression. The products also raise awareness of the program and encourage people to seek the help that they need.
With every two out of three people who do not seek the help that they need, the chances of taking one’s life increases. Since depression is treatable, suicide is considered the most preventable type of death.
There are a number of sponsors for the hot line and for TWLOHA. They include television shows, Web sites, bands, Wrap tour, and celebrities.
Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret, has contributed to the hotlines by volunteering time to answer the phones and donating money to the organization. Warren appeared on a number of television programs and was on WCU campus this semester. He said one of the most popular secrets he reads about on the postcards sent to him are about suicidal thoughts and actions.
TWLOHA began with Renne Yohe’s story in 2006, of her long journey of addiction to becoming sober. Her story is now in print, it is includes her journal entries. The book is available on the main Web site, www.twloha.com.
Yohe was 19 at the time when using cocaine and drinking alcohol. She suffered from depression and substance abuse. Her depression led her to attempt suicide and she has 50 scars on her arms that are self-inflected. One day she took a razor blade and wrote “fuck up” into her forearm.
The treatment center that Yohe attended thought that she was too great of a risk and declined her. Tworkowski and friends took her in to love her, to be her hospital, to be her church, to write love on her arms.
Five days before Yohe enters a treatment center, her friends are with her every moment to support her. The night before she goes to get treatment, Yohe gives Tworkowski the razor blade that she uses to cut herself and told him she has been sober for the last five days. Tworkowski described it as a feeling of “trading death for life.”
“The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope,” Yohe said to Tworkowski when they arrived at the rehab.
Tworkowski said Yohe’s story show pain and hope, addiction and sobriety, regret and the possibility of freedom. Tworkowski and his friends realized that Yohe’s story represented people’s lives from all over. People would tell them of loved ones they lost to suicide. “Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly,” Tworkowski said on the Web site.
Tworkowski said he will always remember his encounters with Yohe and recall her recovery story. He said that she will always have the marks on her arms, but that she believes that God means for change. That there is hope and healing in the stars, and she would ask people to remember that.
“We at TWLOHA believe that rescue is possible, and are committed to communicating hope to others who know the daily struggle of living in a broken world.” Tworkowski said as part of the mission statement.
On campus, counseling is available to all students to talk.
Ginger Rae Dunbar is a second-year student majoring English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at RD655287@wcupa.edu.