Many people began 2021 with the hopes of change on the horizon. Among calls for social and political change stirred up by COVID-19, the pandemic also brought conversations about mental health to the forefront. With the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reporting a 338 percent increase in calls in March 2020 alone, more people are seeking help than ever.
Connecting people to mental health resources is something Jamie Tworkowski has over a decade of experience in. As the founder of mental health nonprofit To Write Love on Her Arms, he’s spent the past fifteen years speaking about and listening to others’ mental health stories and connecting individuals with access to and funds for treatment.
“I think like a lot of things that we might be afraid of [therapy] when we’ve never experienced it,” Tworkowski said in an interview on Ten Minute Talks with Meagan Lynn. “It might be really scary to make that first appointment or to walk into that office or even take that first phone call, but my experience has been that it’s worth it; that it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.”
Showing up for others
Tworkowski himself has been going to therapy for several years, and says something that can take the pressure off of seeking help is remembering that it’s also a way to learn how to help others in your life.
“When I learn how to be vulnerable, hopefully it allows me to be a better friend or a better son or brother. When I learn how to talk openly and honestly about my pain or even my feelings, the hope is that it’s disarming and inviting for other people to talk about what’s going on in their lives,” he explained. “I think there’s nothing wrong with going in to deal with our stuff, to deal with the things that hurt, but the healthier we are, the more we’re going to be able to show up for the people that we care about.”
Working in mental health, Tworkowski has plenty of experience meeting people in their pain–something he calls sitting with someone in their questions.
“It’s tempting to want to have answers, and that makes sense. The question deserves an answer, but there’s so many questions, especially when it comes to mental health,” he said. “I think this actually often becomes a barrier that keeps us from helping people; that we don’t know what to say so we don’t say anything. We’re afraid we might give bad advice, but I think a lot of times what people are looking for is just our presence, our concern.”
Even working in mental health, Tworkowski’s not a counselor, so his focus is always to get people to professional help.
“I like to encourage people if you don’t know what to say, maybe start by saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know what you’re dealing with, but I love you. And I don’t want you to be alone. And I’m here. If I can sit with you, if I can listen, if I can cry with you, if I can help you research a counselor, I’m all in because I care about you.’”
Sharing your story
Tworkowski says that helping other people through their mental health struggles has also helped him work through his own through developing meaningful relationships.
“We can get so caught up in our own stuff, our own problems, our own fears, that it’s so vital to step into the lives of other people,” he said. “When someone else opens up about the fact and the ways that life is hard and we get to do the same, to me, that’s how people connect and build real relationships.”
“It’s kind of the joke that you don’t become best friends because it’s like, ‘Oh, your life’s great? Oh, you got that promotion? Everything is awesome? Cool, I feel so close,’” he continued. “We tend to connect over sharing things that are hard.”
Tworkowski says this all gets back to the importance of sharing your story.
“I know vulnerability is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I think it’s a good one. There’s just so much power that can happen when someone chooses to be vulnerable, or even when we choose to be vulnerable, and hopefully it invites someone else to do the same.”
If you’re currently helping a loved one through their mental health challenges, Tworkowski recommends speaking to a therapist, too.
“The person helping deserves to have a support system as well. That can be a really heavy burden to carry,” he said. “How we want the person struggling to get help, we should remind the person who’s attempting to care that that could be a good thing to process with a mental health professional as well.”
To get connected with mental health resources near you or to apply for funding for treatment, visit twloha.com/find-help/. If you need immediate help, you can text “TWLOHA” to Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.