Non-Profit Gives Young People A Way to Cope With Pain

To Write Love On Her Arms: A New Non-Profit Gives Young People A Way to Cope With Pain

Written By: David Carr

The World Health Organization estimates that 121 million people suffer from depression and 18 million of these cases are happening in the US. Another report claims that 2/3 of those suffering from depression never seek treatment and instead tend to self medicate with drugs, alcohol or cutting. A non-profit organization based in Florida is trying slowly but surely to reverse those numbers and they are using popular social networks to talk with young people openly, and honestly about their issues. To Write Love On Her Arms is a non-profit, based in Orlando, Florida, dedicated to creating a safe space for young people to talk about their issues. The organization’s staff and interns are able to refer troubled youth to professionals who can get them the treatment they need. Jamie Tworkowski is the founder of TWLOHA and he sat down with me for a lengthy discussion about his organization.

David Carr: Jamie, what prompted you to start this type of non-profit and how long has the organization been up and running?

Jamie Tworkowski: We have been operating for three years. The organization grew out of me trying to help a close friend. My friend Rene was really suffering from depression. She had tried to commit suicide. She had actually cut herself and carved “fuck up” on her arm. When we tried to get her into a hospital, the fact that she had ingested drugs meant that she actually had to wait five days before they could see her. I was with her for the five days, and while I was with her, I used things like My Space, Facebook and Twitter to reach out to people for help.

I knew that she could not afford treatment so I asked for donations. People started responding and helping; folks started to donate money but then other people started e-mailing about their issues with depression…other folks needed someone to talk to. It just seemed to grow from there. While my friends and I helped Rene we started helping other people in need.

DC: How big is your organization now?

JT: We have ten people on staff, and six interns. So far we have answered over 100,000 e-mails from people who needed to talk to someone and we have spoken to youth from over 100 different countries.

DC: Walk me through exactly what you do? Is your staff mostly talking to high school-age kids?

JT: Our message is a simple one. We basically set up a safe place either on My Space, Facebook, and/or Twitter, or over the phone for folks to talk to us and to share their story about dealing with their specific issue. Our goal is to meet them wherever they are and get them to the next step in their recovery. We are not the solution. Our role, after getting them to open up to us, is to get them to open up to a friend or counselor in their community. The age range of who we serve is pretty diverse. We end up talking to a lot of high school age kids, college kids, some adults…we have parents who talk to us about their kids. It’s a unique mix.

DC: What would you say is the number one issue many of the kids who reach out to you are facing?

JT: It’s depression. I mean, they just need ways to cope with different forms of depression. They get hooked on drugs or alcohol or they end up cutting themselves because they cannot figure out another way to deal with depression. The kids we work with don’t know how to cope with their pain.

DC: On average how many e-mails would you say you get a day from kids?

JT: We get anywhere from 500 to 1000 e-mails per week. We are also sending our staff to college campuses and interacting with young people face to face now.

DC: I know you had a booth at the Warped Tour this past year. How has music played a role in what you do?

JT: Two out of the five days I spent with Rene were at shows. Music was a huge part of her life. It was the only thing at the time, she felt connected to. When I reached out for help a few musicians responded. Young people feel a serious connection to the music and bands they are into, so I knew music had to be a part of this. We have been on the Warped Tour three times and Kevin (Lyman) and his people make it very easy for non-profits to set up and go on tour and reach out to young people.

DC: Are folks mainly stopping by during the tour to give a donation or do you have kids coming by to talk?

JT: All of the above. Some folks buy a T-Shirt, others want to really know what we are about but we do have kids at the shows who really want to have a serious conversation about what is going on with them. Sometimes they come to the booth in order to feel safe. They see it as a comfortable, safe place to be.

DC: How can people get involved and support the work you are doing?

JT: They can get on the website. They can donate money or just buy a shirt. We are working with a couple of great organizations right now to expand the kind of help we provide. We will be doing more peer to peer/face to face interactions with folks real soon. If folks are serious about helping us out all they have to do is hit the website.

DC: We started our conversation with you telling me about how helping your friend Rene was the catalyst that got you involved in creating this organization. How is Rene doing now?

JT: I’m happy to say that Rene has had three years of sobriety. Like any other person who has an addiction, she is taking each day as a challenge to stay sober. Some days have been better than others, but she’s in a better place now, and she’s in treatment getting the help she needs.

DC: Jamie thank you for chatting with me and good luck with all of the great work you’re doing.

JT: Thanks, David.

If you are someone you know is suffering from depression, log on to http://www.twloha.com/index.php and get the help you or your friend needs.

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