Show and tell: members of TWLOHA share their talents and stories at open mic

 
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BY MIRANDA SCOTT —

College is a place to start fresh, make new friends, and find new passions. While many college students are living away from family for the first time, an alternative type of support system can still be found here – specifically for those suffering with mental health. Many affected by mental health issues may find there are few places to turn to for help. However, national organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), are trying to change this. TWLOHA is a movement primarily focused on helping those who suffer from issues like depression, self-harm and addiction. Northern Arizona University (NAU) has its very own faction of TWLOHA, and the club organizes social outings in friendly environments on the regular. The most recent was an open mic night held at Campus Coffee Bean on March 2, where anyone and everyone could present creative works.

Summer Cesarini, a freshman at NAU, read one of her poems at the open-mic night held at Campus Coffee Bean. NAU's TWLOHA invited students to perform at the coffee shop on Saturday night in order to raise funds for their club. (Photograph by Natalia Guzman)

Summer Cesarini, a freshman at NAU, read one of her poems at the open-mic night held at Campus Coffee Bean. NAU’s TWLOHA invited students to perform at the coffee shop on Saturday night in order to raise funds for their club. (Photograph by Natalia Guzman)

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide — many of whom are teenagers, according to the World Health Organization. More than half of the people with depression do not seek treatment. Some believe depression is a problem controllable by the person affected and some believe it is a chemical imbalance. Movements such as TWLOHA can help settle the confusion, reinforce positive feelings and encourage those suffering into treatment.

Senior electronic media and film major Alicia Gillman and junior psychology major Roxy Rondeau ran the open mic event.

“Personally I struggled with depression and self-injury,” Rondeau said. “So, I feel a great personal connection because those are things I had in my life. When I found out about To Write Love on Her Arms, it helped me get through the things I was dealing with. I joined the club to help other people through the things they were struggling with.”

During the open mic, people were invited to come up to the stage and share their creativity in the form of songs, poems or whatever their chosen medium. Many of the performers also opened up about their mental health issues in front of the audience.

“We wanted to give an outlet to people to express themselves and work toward the goal of erasing the stigma of mental illness,” Gillman said. “We thought an open mic night with open conversations at the end would help start that conversation on our own campus.”

As the students approached the mic through the night, each performance was applauded followed by the audience’s chance to ask the performers about their work, such as, “What was the personal meaning behind your songs?” and “Where did you get your inspiration?” In the comfortable environment, the performers willingly shared their answers.

“Well, I would say, it gives a safe way to express what you’re going through and the pain and any suffering,” said Sarah Ritze, a sophomore chemistry major. “It gives you a safer way to get it out. It gives people a chance to write out their feelings. That’s were creativity comes from, just being able to let the pain out.”

While opening up to strangers can be difficult, one performer in particular, junior music education major J.D. Mercado whole-heartedly embraced her ability to share and express her story and emotions with the crowd.

“My whole goal coming here was not only to get an education, but to sort of prove myself and grow as an artist,” Mercado said. “I’ve written some really cool songs here and really want to bring my small town kind of dreams here.”

As Gillman remarked, the goal of the night was to give everyone a chance to have a conversation about different issues people are dealing with, but maybe not willing to talk about. Providing a creative outlet involving music and poetry eased the conversation’s intensity and made deep issues simpler to talk about and understand.

While there is still no cure for those suffering with depression, there is always help. The TWLOHA club on campus meets on Mondays at 8:15 p.m. in room 320 of the Communication building.

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