New U-chapter of TWLOHA aims to build campus community and solidarity

According to World Health Organization (WHO), suicide was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds in 2012, and it’s estimated that, in America alone, 19 million people are currently living with depression. Not only is untreated depression the leading cause of suicide, but two out of three people suffering from it never seek assistance.

Despite these statistics, the stigma against mental health issues remains strong and is all too often left undiscussed by society. U.S. suicide rates have reached a 25-year high and high-profile cases come into the media’s ever-watching eye.

William Jewell students have chosen this moment to open up discourse about this lingering problem. Friday, Dec.  5th marks the opening of the College’s official chapter of “To Write Love On Her Arms”, a nonprofit organization aimed at not only raising awareness of issues such as suicide, depression, self-harm and addiction, but also bringing hope to those who suffer from them.

Maggie Metz, senior and president of the new Jewell chapter, first found out about the organization in middle school and was immediately captivated with its cause and the way it desired to bring people out of the darkness and into the light.  Throughout her schooling, it continued to have a positive impact on her and her friends, and last year, she began the process of creating a Jewell chapter. Shane Ahrens, junior, and Kyle Ainge, sophomore, also joined the cause, becoming the new branch’s vice president and treasurer (respectively).

She aspires to create an environment and a place of hope that is available to all students, or, in her words, “the most open organization on campus.”

“The Jewell community can benefit from what this chapter embodies in its mission and [it] can bring hope, help, and open up avenues for conversation,” Metz said.

She and her fellow officers hope to address the hard topics of society through specific activities, such as exercises, guest speakers and videos to challenge the way members of the Jewell community think about mental illness. The new chapter also aims to refer people suffering from these problems to counseling as a means of providing community support and creating an environment of solidarity on campus.  While it is not a support group and does not take the place of counseling, the group hopes it will be the first step of encouragement to further seek help and to find people to confide in.

The umbrella organization, TWLOHA, began in 2006 with a story shared on MySpace by Jamie Tworkowski, the woman who would become its founder. Originally, the group started as a fundraising measure to pay for a friend’s rehabilitation costs; after relaying her experiences online with this friend, Renee Yohe, she sold T-shirts bearing the message “To Write Love On Her Arms” not only as a way to make money, but also to bring light to the lives of others with similar experiences.

The movement ended up going viral and, as a result, an official nonprofit was set up for this purpose. Its presence on social media, its resonance with the youth culture it was reaching out to, and the T-shirts themselves contributed to its rising popularity. Even famous musicians and athletes began wearing the shirts, and its growing association with the alternative rock subculture in particular only continued to bring supporters to its cause. Currently, a film chronicling the group’s inspiration and creation, titled “To Write Love On Her Arms”, is set to be released in 2015 and stars Kat Dennings and Chad Michael Murray.

The new To Write Love On Her Arms U-Chapter Jewell group can be reached on Facebook and will meet every Friday from 10:00-10:45 a.m. during Jewell Time.

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