On Thursday, March 29, UIS hosted “An Evening of Hope” with speaker Denny Kolsch of the non-profit organization “To Write Love on Her Arms.” The event aimed to start a conversation about tough issues that have been affecting the school — in particular, issues involving mental illness, self-harm, and suicide.
To Write Love on Her Arms, which is often referred to as TWLOHA, is a non-profit organization that focuses on issues of mental illness, drug addiction, and self-harm. It aims to help those struggling with these issues in addition to raising money and awareness. Denny Kolsch, the speaker of the night, told the story of the organization itself, which started when a man named Jamie Tworkowski saw his friend struggling with drug addiction, depression, and self-harm, and enlisted the help of his friends to sell t-shirts and raise money to pay for her hospitalization. The group was able to raise enough money to pay for their friend’s hospital stay, and their organization began to grow in popularity and influence, with their merchandise stands popping up at concerts across Florida and their message spreading like wildfire across Myspace. Over time, the organization became well-known, partnering with artists across a variety of mediums to spread the message further than just throughout the state of Florida. Now, TWLOHA remains popular and well-known, still advocating for more awareness of mental illnesses and drug addiction.
Kolsch also shared his own personal story. He struggled with a drug addiction himself before eventually becoming clean. He told the story of his struggle with social anxiety, and how he resorted to drugs to help alleviate his anxiety. After years of struggling, recovery, and relapse, he was able to escape the grip of drugs, and he is now a counselor who works with people struggling with anxiety and addiction, while also traveling and speaking for To Write Love on Her Arms.
After telling his story, Kolsch held a Q&A during which students asked him questions about his profession, his recovery, and how to be more informed. When discussion came to resources on campus for people who may need help for mental illnesses, he seemed impressed by the number of resources available here at UIS.
When asked what advice he would give individuals struggling with mental illnesses, Kolsch advised, “Reach out and ask for help, and know that change can happen and there’s reason to be hopeful.” There are resources available on campus, online, and through the phone for people who are struggling.
Overall, the night allowed for an open discussion about serious issues with significant stigma surrounding them. Whether you were able to attend the event or not, if you or a friend is struggling, there is help available. There are resources both on and off campus that are easily accessible. Some resources can also be found at TWLOHA.com, along with information about the organization itself.