Jamie Tworkowski wasn’t trying to start a movement. He certainly wasn’t thinking about creating an organization whose logo people have tattooed on their body, or whose blog posts are quoted on T-shirts, or whose supporters say they are still alive because of him. He just wanted to write and post a story about a friend struggling with mental health and addiction.
Yet that 2006 blog post, titled “To Write Love on Her Arms,” sparked the global nonprofit of the same name. Tworkowski’s organization was named the MDRT Foundation charity partner for the 2021 MDRT Annual Meeting Virtual Event held in June and the recipient of a $50,000 grant from the MDRT Foundation.
Tworkowski’s original intent of helping his friend has grown into a network that spreads awareness of mental health issues, provides resources to access help, and invests in treatment and recovery. In the last 15 years, the To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) team has responded to more than 210,000 messages from people in more than 100 countries and traveled 4 million miles to provide support.“The topic of mental health has touched all of our lives in some way,” said MDRT Foundation President Brian P. Walsh, CLU, ChFC, a 27-year MDRT member from Wayne, Pennsylvania, USA. “The more we give, the more people we can give hope and help to. It is really that powerful.”
For Tworkowski and the organization he founded, that means communication in many forms. It could be as small as a tweet or as big as a presentation on a college campus. It also means subsidizing the help that people need but can’t always afford, with TWLOHA providing $2.7 million toward treatment and counseling since its inception.
“We hear from a lot of people that say we were the spark that encouraged them to finally step into this type of care,” Tworkowski said. “We love that we can help individuals in a really practical way, not just making them aware of resources but specially meeting financial needs.”
That includes TWLOHA’s “Find Help” tool on its website, which allows users to enter their location and find resources based on what they or their loved ones are dealing with. (The tool is U.S.-only at this time, but international resources are provided as well.) Since launching in 2018, the tool, which also offered COVID-19-specific resources for rent assistance and food, has generated more than 101,000 searches from all 50 U.S. states. There was an increase in its use in late 2020, six months after the initial pandemic-driven lockdown. The most common searches are for counseling, support groups or crisis services.
So much of the success and growth of the organization has come from word of mouth: from the influence of an artist on a stage in front of hundreds of thousands to someone working at a coffee shop and sharing with a co-worker.
— Jamie Tworkowski
Mental health doesn’t discriminate
These needs do not discriminate based on who you are or what you do for a living. Tworkowski said the pursuit of financial and emotional security for clients and colleagues could make it difficult for advisors to attend to their own self-care needs.
“It doesn’t create a lot of space for vulnerability or saying, ‘Hey, I’m having a hard day or a hard week,’” he said. “Life is hard at times, and each of us deals with mental health. No matter how good you are at your job or how successful you are, it’s important to remember that we’re human, and admit that we’re human.
“Success and financial security don’t mean that we’re happy.”
With the MDRT Foundation grant and the money raised during the Annual Meeting Virtual Event — half of which went to TWLOHA, and the other half to supporting the Foundation’s grant program — TWLOHA can continue to expand its online outreach, scholarship program and more. Donations also support a high school program (Between the Bells) and college program (UChapters) to help young people with mental health challenges.
What else can you do?
Tworkowski suggests buying a TWLOHA T-shirt or participating in one of the organization’s campaigns throughout the year (including a fundraiser for World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10). You can go to twloha.com/get-involved, download TWLOHA’s free self-care app The Hopeful, become a TWLOHA Blue monthly donor or just tell someone you know about the network.
“So much of the success and growth of the organization has come from word of mouth: from the influence of an artist on a stage in front of hundreds of thousands to someone working at a coffee shop and sharing with a co-worker,” he said. “We try to remind people that everyone has some kind of influence and ability to help.”