Keene State College opened up the conversation of mental illness, self-injury and suicide to its students this past week in hosting To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA). The event, hosted by the on-campus organization Circle K, took place in the Mable Brown Room Tuesday, March 8, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and featured food, Zumba, raffles, live music and people who spoke about the topics at hand.
According to the TWLOHA’s website, founder Jamie Tworkowski initially wanted to help a friend “struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts,” by helping her get through treatment. Since the organization was established in 2006, TWLOHA has “responded to over 180,000 messages…travelled more than three million miles…and shared more than 600 blog posts,” all to help those struggling with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts
The mission statement on the TWLOHA website stated, “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.”
Jessica Chouinard, a KSC junior and member and secretary of Circle K, was one student who helped to host the event on the KSC campus.
Chouinard explained, “Circle K is a volunteer group on campus. A lot of what we do involves cleaning up the town, helping out at the community kitchen, participating in food drives and donating to elementary schools and local children’s hospitals. Any opportunities we have, we take. If someone reaches out to us with an idea for an event, we’ll do it.”
She continued, “The most important take-away from TWLOHA is getting the word out about suicide awareness and mental health.”
Chouinard said that she thinks these are topics that everyone can relate to.
“I feel like everyone knows someone who has been affected by suicide, whether it was a friend who committed suicide, or having had suicidal thoughts themselves,” Chouinard said, “I think it’s the kind of event everyone should participate in.”
Haley Monkton, a KSC senior, attended TWLOHA with her Women’s Psychology class, as one student in the class was helping to host the event.
“I think this is a great event to promote suicide awareness,” Monkton said, “It’s scary how high suicide rates and suicidal thoughts are in the college population.”
That being said, Monkton said she thinks that KSC does a good job promoting suicide awareness. Monkton explained that in an Abnormal Psychology class taught by Dr. Karen Jennings, she became certified in suicide prevention.
According to Monkton, Jennings sets aside a day for the counseling center to come in and speak with her students, and allow them to participate in role-playing exercises geared towards helping a person who is contemplating suicide. At the end of the class, each student receives a certificate in suicide prevention.
Monkton said that she thought the event was a great way to get other KSC students, not just psychology majors, involved in the conversation about suicide prevention and awareness.
Taryn Lazinski, a KSC senior, said that she attended TWLOHA to support both mental illness awareness and Active Minds, a club on campus that she is a member of.
Lazinski said, “I am a huge supporter for people who have mental health issues and I want to increase the awareness of mental health and decrease the stigma that revolves around mental illnesses.”
During her time at the event, Lazinski said that she really enjoyed herself.
“I think it was uplifting and inspiring,” Lazinski said, “I had a lot of fun. There were a lot of different tables that had different clubs that I got to learn more about, as well as Zumba, music and people who spoke.”
For Lazinski, events like TWLOHA hold a special place in her heart.
“My brother died of suicide. It was influenced a lot by his schizophrenia-bipolar disorder. Having two mental disorders made it really difficult to treat, I think a lot of what I am doing now is influenced by hoping to help others who are going through what my brother went through,” Lazinski said, “I never want anyone to end their life the way he did. I also want more people to feel comfortable with themselves and not feel limited because of their mental illness.”
Lazinski said that she thinks the reason suicide and mental illnesses are so detrimental is because they are topics that most feel uncomfortable talking about. This, Lazinski said, is something that needs to change.
“I was very uncomfortable about my brother’s death because I did not think people would understand that mental illness can be just as physically harmful as physical illnesses are. Both are just as painful, but one is just a little harder to see. I don’t think everyone understands that and it is important to know.”
That being said, Lazinski said that she is happy with the way that KSC is spreading awareness about suicide and mental illness, especially with events like TWLOHA.
Lazinski said, “Overall, I am pleased that there are people on this campus just as passionate about suicide awareness as I am and I think people here are starting to make a difference.”
Jill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org