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Student Activism Focuses On Mental Health
Issue   |   Wed, 10/02/2013 - 00:53
Photo Courtesy of Darrian Kelly ‘15
Students visited the To Write Love On Her Arms table at the College’s Mental Health and Wellness Fair to learn about on-campus resources.

To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) is pairing up with the Counseling Center next Tuesday, Oct. 8 in honor of National Depression Screening Day. This is the first time Amherst College has celebrated National Depression Screening Day, although it’s been a regular event at other college campuses around the country. It’s also the first time the Counseling Center is pairing up with TWLOHA to host an event. On that day, TWLOHA members will be tabling in the Campus Center Atrium alongside the Counseling Center psychologists. Interested students will be asked to fill out a survey which they will then proceed to turn in to one of the psychologists. Any immediate counseling will be done by the Counseling Center staff in the Friedmann Room. Students who submit the survey will also be entered in a drawing for gift cards.

TWLOHA is advised by Director of the Counseling Center Jacqueline Bearce and Dean of New Students Patricia O’Hara. It is headed by Darrian Kelly ’15 with the support of Katharine Rudzitis ’15 and Kristie Chan, a Mount Holyoke student*.

“I’m very excited to have the Counseling Center collaborate with TWLOHA,” said Bearce. “We’re trying to let students understand that there are multiple resources available to them.”

The Counseling Center is also planning to work with Random Acts of Kindness and Meditation Group. However, Bearce notes that TWLOHA is a “particular student group aimed at reducing stigma.”

TWLOHA is an international nonprofit organization founded in Florida in 2006. Jamie Tworkowski, the founder, was inspired by the fundraising he did for a friend entering an in-patient treatment program. Many insurance programs don’t cover the outstanding costs of mental health treatment. As a result, Jamie wrote “To Write Love On Her Arms,” a touching and eloquent online essay detailing the struggles of his sick friend Renee. This story helped bolster the sale of the t-shirts he used to help pay for Renee’s treatment. Needless to say, the essay went viral and garnered so much support, chapters of TWLOHA sprouted almost overnight. There are branches on more than 80 college campuses throughout the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

TWLOHA-Amherst was recognized as a chapter on March 13, 2012. Kelly, its founder, wanted to spread TWLOHA’s message even before coming to Amherst.

“Everyone can relate to the idea of being stuck in a problem or a tough situation. My life has been touched by the TWLOHA mission. Here at Amherst, I have witnessed many students struggle to make use of mental health resources both on and off campus. I have not only heard of suicide attempts, but completed suicides. TWLOHA-Amherst sets out to build a community on campus,” Kelly said.

According to a 2011 NIH study, around 30 percent of college students reported feeling depressed at some point during their time at school.

Elaborating on the prevalence of mental health disparities in college culture, Kelly said, “National health assessments have shown our peers struggle with being overwhelmed, lonely or anxious at rates that are well above the national average. While there is a Mental Health and Wellness Committee on campus that has been working on some great changes to student life, it is also important to have an outlet like TWLOHA for students themselves to get involved around the issues.”

Some past prominent events directed by TWLOHA include the TWLOHA Spring Benefit concert, the Frank Warren “PostSecret” event and, most recently, the semiannual Dog Day. On Friday, Sept. 20, TWLOHA hosted “Dog Days Are Over,” in which faculty and staff bring their pets to campus for students to play with. Hosted at Keefe, the event not only fostered informal, relaxed interaction but provided informational resources about involvement in TWLOHA.

“Dog Days — a meet and greet with students, faculty, staff and their pets — is one of my favorite additions to TWLOHA’s event calendar. For the past three semesters, it’s allowed students to interact with pets and to chat with faculty and staff in a low-key setting. It’s one of my favorite community-building events, and I can’t wait to see everyone there next semester,” Rudzitis, TWLOHA’s vice president, said.

On Sept. 27, TWLOHA also appeared in the College’s Mental Health and Wellness Fair. Students were asked to write down their greatest fear and dream in an effort to start interpersonal dialogue. These same students then took photos with their completed informational sheets, some of which were posted on fearsversusdreams.com. “Fears versus Dreams” is one among many of the campaigns TWLOHA promotes. Aimed at dissipating loneliness, persons of all backgrounds are showcased holding the paper upon which their biggest fear and biggest dream are written.

The future for this student organization seems just as promising as its past. In the spring, it hopes to launch an Amherst PostSecret magazine, a campaign that was limited to Tumblr last academic year. Amherst PostSecret is a project in which people anonymously submit a secret on a postcard for all to see. Just like the “Fears versus Dreams” campaign, it allows people to empathize with others and, in the process, establish connections. The second annual Amherst PostSecret Submission event will be held in Keefe this November. Last year, TWLOHA received almost one hundred anonymous submissions during the two hours it tabled at Keefe. The primary persons working on the new magazine are Sarah Parson ’15, Shellby Fabian ’14, Lucia Yang ’15 and Sarah Ashman ’14.

Other events on TWLOHA’s agenda include possible partnership programs with the local high schools and a 2014 Spring Benefit concert that, according to Kelly, “our school has never seen before.”

Contradicting the infamous “Amherst Apathy,” TWLOHA’s efforts are fueled by the passion of its leaders and members.

“My experience with TWLOHA has been indescribable. No words can describe the feeling you get when something like TWLOHA’s mission statement, which is so near and dear to my heart, is used as a basis to help and spread hope to other people through the various activities that we do on campus,” said Chan, the group’s Five College Representative.

All TWLOHA meetings and events are open to the community. Meetings are every other Thursday at 9 p.m. in Chapin 101. The TWLOHA schedule is posted on the group’s Facebook (facebook.com/twlohaamherst), Twitter (twitter.com/twlohaamherst), and Tumblr (twlohaamherst.tumblr.edu).

*Added 10/04/13: The group's leadership also consists of Campus Affairs Coordinator Donna Kim '16 and Campus Outreach Coordinator Sarah Parsons '15.

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