By: Brittney Phoebe Laryea
Look out UGA! A new organization is here to incite some changes, and it’s called To Write Love on Her Arms.
The organization was started by five undergrads, Victoria Glover, Jeniffer Abdullah, Hope Calhoun, Amanda Ackerman and Mackenzie King, who launched the organization’s first meeting this past January.
I met up with co-founder and third-year psychology major Victoria Glover this week to find out more about TWLOHA (twu-lo-ha) and how the organization will stand out among the hundreds already on campus. The former Miss BUGA 2013 is currently a CLASS Advocate in Brumby hall, plays the piccolo in the Red Coat Band and is now a founding member of UGA’s TWLOHA U Chapter.
Elite: Could you tell me a little bit about TWLOHA? How did it get started? Is it a national organization?
Victoria Glover: “We actually are a national organization. It actually started in 2008, back when mental health was really on the down-low and people just didn’t talk about it as much. The founder, Jamie Tworkowski, started this organization on Myspace. He had a best friend who was depressed and cutting herself and he didn’t know what to do because no one really opens up about that kind of stuff. No really says like “Hey, if you know someone who is in serious mental harm then, you know, do this.” So he started a blog on Myspace and started blogging about Renee. He would post things like “Renee did this today, or she did that today. Help me somebody.”
People started replying and what they found was that people were not just blogging about Renee, but they would blog about their own experiences and what they and people that they knew who had been through kind of the same thing. So it turned into this like internet movement. It picked up so much publicity. People were fascinated that he was sharing so much and he decided to go ahead a start up a nonprofit. He and a team of people decided to start raising money for people to go into treatment for things like depression, anxiety, drug addiction and alcohol abuse because, I know Renee wasn’t that well off financially and I guess that was just something that they figured would help out. And it just started this movement – I guess I can say it was a movement at first of people being more open about what they were going through, as opposed to kind of like not telling anybody or really being ashamed of what they were going through. I think that’s the big one there, the shame that goes into being depressed or having anxiety.
E: So what brought you to TWLOHA specifically? What was it about the organization that attracted you? What was it that made you say “Yeah, this is an organization I want to be a part of?” not only that, but to bring it to campus as well?
VG: In High School – that’s when I first heard about it – so it caught my attention then and I didn’t understand exactly what it meant at the time. I knew my family was going through family counseling but I hadn’t really decided to go into the mental health profession…. And… geez! I don’t know, I think it was just a weird random coincidence of events that happened while I was in college.
I had noticed the culture on our campus. There are some organizations that deal with mental health on campus and I think that they do a really great job in everything that they do. But honestly, I want to see our campus change. When I say that, I don’t want people to see an organization and be like, “Okay they are here for depressed people. Okay, they are here for anxious people. Play, they are here for bipolar, – no that’s not me!” I really want this movement to touch people who have never thought about counseling, and I think that To Write Love on Her Arm is kind of unique in that it’s a movement, it’s an organization with a philanthropy. We’re a family. It’s kind of like everything all in one. It’s something that I can’t necessarily say that it’s easy to translate to everybody unless you have this um, new up to date trend. For example, they do a lot of selling of t-shirts, like the one I’m wearing one right now. They do things that are just really catchy to the public and people wonder, ‘Okay I see this a lot, what is this? What is this all about?’ They subtly get your attention. TWLOHA’s uniqueness really just caught my eye and I wanted to do more with it.
E: Did anything about the way that a TWLOHA used social media attract you? How do you think that method works with our generation?
VG: Oh yeah I forgot that part. So Jamie made shirts and he gave them to lead singers in bands to wear on stage. It’s almost like – I don’t want to say like a pop-punk kind of culture, but a lot of people who listened to alternative rock and that kind of mainstream music, they were exposed to it first when they saw the shirts. So, I definitely think he used social media and the entertainment industry to get the word out there at first.
E: So he was using mainstream artists? (“Yeah.”). So then do you think that the movement is more directed at those of a younger generation?
VG: Yeah, it is. I mean the name, first of all. When I tell people who are older about To Write Love on Her Arms they are kind of confused. They are like “What?” Like, “What did you say?” And with things like depression, and suicide, and just mental illness as a whole, In order for us to eliminate the stigma of mental illness that’s out there in our society right now, we have to start with our younger generation. Because – I’m not saying that people can’t change but older people kind of already have an idea about what this is and their mentality is more like, “Oh you feel depressed? You need to go talk to Jesus!” especially in the South about mental illness. So I really feel like the only way that we can move forward is by affecting the youth. They are the future. I mean, people now that are passionate about TWLOHA and have worked with TWLOHA and believe in the mission and values of TWLOHA, when they get older, are still going to communicate the same values. Hopefully, they’ll be teaching their kids or people that they mentor about TWLOHA. And maybe not specifically the organization but its belief that being mentally healthy is important because I really don’t think that’s taught in a lot of out households.
E: You were talking a little bit about the culture of this campus. What do you think the mental health culture is on this campus?
VG: It’s kind of non-existent. And I don’t mean that to bash organizations but I do think that people don’t recognize mental health on the same level as they recognize physical health. Mental Health is sort of like an extra, like you don’t really need it. That’s so backwards, especially for college students. I feel that people come to college trying to figure out who they are, or trying to find out who they fit in with. They walk around – I walked around – trying to impress people. Buy why? You know, why can’t I walk around and be comfortable with myself and know that I’m loved the way I am? And it sounds simple, but that’s really the core of being mentally healthy; being comfortable with yourself, being comfortable with who you are. That’s hard for college students because we don’t know who we are. Even knowing that there is an organization out there that says, “Hey, you don’t have to wear certain colors on certain days, or do all these crazy things, or raise thousands and thousands of dollars for an organization to be accepted. You are accepted regardless as soon as you walk in the doors.”
E: Are the resources on campus effective? Do you think people know about them?
VG: Are they effective? Yes. Do People know about them? No. I know that everyone knows about CAPS and CAPS is everyone’s go to but I actually find that if you need counseling, Aderhold Hall is great. They Personal Evaluation and are super affordable. That’s where I’m going right now and I think it’s amazing! My sessions are like five dollars each and there’s no cap. You can go as long as you want and for however many days as you want. It’s much more controlled by you, I would say. There’s a bit more diversity I found going to Aderhold. I know the ASPIRE clinic on campus does counseling as well, the Psychology Building, they run a counseling program with their grad students. So there are resources everywhere, It’s just hard for people to hear about them.
E: What do you think it will take to change this campus mentality? Why hasn’t there been progress?
VG: (laughs) It will take time! I think this goes back to the shame aspect. People go to these resources. Because, they are still here. People are paying for it, but nobody is talking about it. I feel like if we talked about it more, we would spread the word more. We can make some serious progress. If everyone decided to say, “Okay, I’m going to go to a counselor,” all of a sudden, it’s not that strange, because everybody’s doing it. The only reason that people don’t want to talk about it is because they think that they are the only one’s doing it and that’s just not the case. There are plenty of people out here going through the same things, struggling with the same things. I just think it’s a matter of creating a culture or creating a – as of right now- an area for people to come in and talk about, “Hey this is what I’m dealing with. These are my struggles,” and have that circle and have it be an area where people are okay to express themselves.
E: And that’s what you hope to do with TWLOHA?
VG: Yeah. Once we start with To Write Love on Her Arms as kind of like a general body consensus then, hopefully, enough people will join the movement and then, everyone’s talking about it. They may not necessarily have a therapist but they can say you know, “I felt like crap my freshman year, this is why.” Then all of a sudden you’re not looked at as the weird person, because you’re just like everybody else.
E: So what are some of TWLOHA’s objectives this for beginning this change in your inaugural semester?
VG: As of right now, we’re just focused on getting our name out there and making the campus aware that we have an organization like this on campus. Throughout the semester we have planned socials and hangouts for our members and we are planning what we call an open mic night where we will have people do spoken word and sing or share a musical talent that they have to raise money for the cause. But I think to affect the campus it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of people who are going through these things and are okay with sharing these things. That’s the hard part, you know, it’s kind of difficult to get people to feel vulnerable with other people.
E: Okay Down to the logistics. Where and when does TWLOHA meet? How do you become a member? Are there dues?
VG: We meet every other Wednesday. Our first meeting was Jan. 14th and our next will be February 11th at 6 pm in MLC 153. It rhymes, so it’s easy to remember: MLC, 153. We were so anxious about the first meeting. We were really hoping that we had a great turnout and we actually had about 70 people turn out and it blew my mind.
E: And finally, what would be one word or phrase to define your hopes for TWLOHA UGA?
VG: Hmm, one word or phrase….man, I don’t know…. I think I’m wearing it actually! In a lot of Jamie’s blogs he references to this quote “We will be the hopeful,” and I think that is really representative of our U chapter. We really do believe that there are going to be a lot of people coming to us with different things to talk about or different issues that they want to discuss. For anyone who is listening or for anybody who wants to know, we want to be the hopeful for you. We want to be there for you if you need that person to talk to or that person to lean on. We want to help you. So, I guess providing hope and help for anyone who wants! That’s TWLOHA.
E: Thank you so much for speaking with me. Are there any last words you’d like to say about TWLOHA UGA?
VG: Yeah! Find us on Facebook, find us on Instagram, find us on Twitter, and Follow