By Daniela Doncel
STORRS – Suicide Prevention Week Keynote Speaker Jamie Tworkowski says human connection and interaction is important in preventing suicide when at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night.
Tworkowski is the founder of “To Write Love on her Arms” (TWLOHA), a non-profit organization that aims to help people struggling with depression, addiction, self injury and suicide.
The organization also invests in treatment and therapy for those who are in need.
The event was co-sponsored by SUBOG (Student Union Board of Governors) and UConn Counseling and Mental Health Services (CMHS) for Suicide Prevention Week, a campaign to bring awareness to suicide among college students.
Tworkowski says he hopes students leave the event feeling encouraged to talk about their emotions.
“Even if you’re here for extra credit or to graduate early, I think the hope is that you could leave here breathing a little easier and you could leave here feeling maybe it’s okay to be honest about your feelings, it’s okay to be honest about your pain, about your struggles, about your questions, and maybe more than anything that if you need help, you would leave here knowing it’s okay to ask for help,” Tworkowski says.
According to Tworkowski, music has a unique ability of being openly honest and being able to ask hard questions. He said because of this power, music is an appropriate place to start the event since it encompasses the idea of being more honest about the difficult parts of life.
With that, he introduced Steven McMorran who sang about four songs and, at one point, encouraged the audience to sing along.
Tworkowski continued to express the idea of being honest in his speech after McMorran’s performance. He reminded audience members they were human.
“You’re not just a student. You’re not just here to perform. You’re not just here to get good grades and go on to get a good job. If those things can happen, that’s great. We support that. I support that, but along the way, you’re going to deal with hard stuff,” Tworkowski says.
Tworkowski explained the movement TWLOHA began as an effort to to tell the story of a friend who was not receiving the help she needed and it later grew to become a worldwide campaign.
“We get emails every single day. We get notes and letters. We get comments and tweets from around the world. We’ve responded now to more than 180,000 messages that have come in from more than 100 different countries… We’ve learned that these are issues that affect people all over the world,” Tworkowski says.
Tworkowski reiterates the global impact of suicide by stating 800,000 people die of suicide around the world every year. In other words, he said, 1 person dies of suicide every 40 seconds.
Tworkowski says whether it’s through a friendship, a relationship or a community, human connection is the true goal for his organization TWLOHA.
“Some people think that TWLOHA, we have 1.5 million likes on facebook, that the dream is this online utopia where everyone can just be happy and hopeful looking at their phone, and that’s really not the goal. That’s not the dream… The dream is two people being honest about their lives and as a result, both people get to feel less alone,” Tworkowski says.
Betsy Cracco, Director of CMHS, says all the events for Suicide Prevention Week revolve around the idea of “Connection is Prevention” due to the disconnect in college students despite technology and its ability to bring people together online.
“We are hearing about epic levels of loneliness and isolation. We really are trying to promote this idea of look up, you know, when you’re walking down Fairfield Way, and I’m guilty of it just as much as everyone else, and really take the time to make face contact and connect with each other,” Cracco says.
Cracco encourages students to take advantage of CMHS offerings such as yoga classes and drop-in consultation hour at 1 p.m. every day at CMHS or in the student union so students can slow down and connect with others.
U Content is a club on campus that focuses on mental health and care, and also encourages the idea of slowing down and connecting with other people.
The club aims to promote self care and improve emotional intelligence by “creating happiness within” through activities such as yoga and projects involving positive affirmations, according to the President of U Content, senior and HDFS (Human Development and Family Studies) major Jennifer Sagastume.
Sagastume says communication about mental health and self care along with human connection is essential for prevention of suicide.
“Mental health is just as, if not more important than physical health and people don’t acknowledge that… I feel like it’s important for students to talk about self care so that other students feel comfortable talking about self care,” Sagastume says.
According to Kayla Kessler, senior and Political Science and Spanish major and the Vice President of U Content, self care is not really discussed in grades K-12, and it becomes an issue when students get to college.
“Coming into college, a lot of those emotions [involving self care] open up because you’re finally on your own and you get to start thinking for yourself and you have to start taking care of yourself as well,” Kessler said.
According to Sagastume, self care is not the same for everyone.
“Do you, be happy, happiness is something different to everyone, self care is also something different to everyone, so this is open to interpretation,” Sagastume says.
Tworkowski ends the event with a quote from his book, If You Feel Too Much.
“If you feel too much, there’s still a place for you here. If you feel too much, don’t go. There’s still some time. Thank you guys,” Tworkowski says.