Making love a movement on campus

New group works to remind struggling students they're not alone


A group of students is making love a movement at UB by providing help and support for students battling depression, anxiety and self-harm.

Kelsey Habla, a sophomore architecture major, started the Love is the Movement Interest Club, which is based off of the national non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).

TWLOHA is a movement dedicated to creating hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide, according to its website.

"There is hope and help available," said Habla, the club's president. "I think that a lot of people who are affected by depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders and self-harm have an apprehension toward seeking help for themselves. It is our goal to change the way people think about these issues and get help for those in need of it."

Katie Kruszynski, a sophomore nursing major and the vice president of Love is the Movement, first became aware of TWLOHA in seventh grade. Her best friend self-harmed and she had other friends who struggled with depression. Her school began a 'To Write Love on Her Arms Day,' in which students would write the word 'love' on their arms to show their support for those battling depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm.

Kruszynski also has personal experience combating these issues.

"This summer, while I was battling depression, I was also struggling with self-harm, so the TWLOHA community and the website really helped me get through it," Kruszynski said. "I was able to read other people's stories and how they overcame their struggles and I was also able to see that it was OK to get help and to tell people about the things I was struggling with."

All of the club's executive board members were interested in forming a community for students to provide support to each other and to anyone who may be struggling and in need of help.

"Since I first arrived as a freshman last year, I wanted to help form a group that serves as a 'by students, for students' approach to prevent self-harm, led by people who have faced such situations, to show that every issue is manageable," said Josh Schmid, a sophomore civil engineering major and secretary of Love is the Movement. "I hope that this [club] can be just that."

Habla came across the UChapters section of the TWLOHA website this past summer, which got her interested in starting a chapter on campus. She spoke to past presidents of TWLOHA clubs at several colleges in the Buffalo area, including Canisius College and Niagara University, and received encouragement to establish a club at UB.

"I became very inspired and wanted to share this cause with the UB community," Habla said. "I think that what TWLOHA deals with is very prevalent on college campuses and we want our club to be a beacon of hope for those who need help."

Founding the club has been a "relatively smooth process," according to Habla. The group has selected its e-board and is working on a constitution. The club is currently working toward permanent standing with the Student Association.

To become an official UChapter recognized by TWLOHA, one or more of the club's members must attend the national conference in Florida this coming May to receive proper training and learn about the organization in greater depth, according to Habla. The club is not currently officially affiliated with the TWLOHA organization and won't be recognized until next year. For now, members are trying to gauge student interest and garner more participation.

Habla has spoken with Holly Hallum, the UChapters Program Director of TWLOHA, who is "on board" with what Habla is doing at UB. Though the club does not yet have a faculty adviser, Habla said she has received support from every faculty member to whom she has mentioned the club and its mission.

Andrew Ellison, a junior biochemistry major and secretary of Love is the Movement, discovered the club from one of Habla's Facebook posts, which described the club's goals: "to present hope and find help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide." He decided to join because he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself and help others.

"I almost lost one of my best friends to suicide, and many of my other friends, along with myself, have suffered from, or are suffering still from depression," Ellison said. "I want to be able to help all of them, and anyone else that I can, and make sure nothing bad happens to any of us in the future."

Habla stresses that the club is not only for people who are suffering from depression, anxiety and other related conditions, but also for anyone who is interested in contributing to the club's mission. The group will serve as a support mechanism and a safe place where anyone can go to talk about what may be bothering them.

"I've been through some rough times and would like to use my experiences to help other people who are going through depression," Schmid said. "Without the intervention of friends, I would not have been able to get past what was ailing me. I'd like to build a network of students at the university who can help others with their experiences."

The club intends to plan fundraisers and activities that will attract more attention, such as a benefit concert and movie night. During their meetings, members complete and discuss activities from the TWLOHA Street Team website.

They are also planning group QPR - Question, Persuade, Refer - training, which is an hour-long session that helps participants identify the signs of suicidal thoughts or actions. The training is designed to help individuals learn how to offer hope for those struggling and teaches participants how to get help for a person who might need assistance, according to Habla.

People with thoughts of self-harm will show signs of it to their peers before their parents or psychiatric professionals, according to Schmid. The club would like to work with UB's Wellness Education Services. Habla stresses that the club itself is not a counseling service but instead a peer service aiming to guide students to the appropriate resources.

"Nobody wants to ever use [the training], but everybody will inevitably come across a situation where knowing it could save another person's life," Schmid said.

The club's members have expressed interest in learning more about the subject and stigma of suicide. Ellison and the other e-board members attended keynote speaker Ross Szabo's lecture on suicide and mental health during Suicide Prevention Week at UB in September and were able to draw a lot from someone with first-hand experiences. His story was emotional and inspirational, according to Ellison, and it led him to ask himself what he was going to do about the issue of suicide.

Habla and Ellison also participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Walk Out of Darkness Sept. 14 at Delaware Park with UB's team, UBWalkin'. The team raised $6,750, surpassing its goal of $5,000.

Ellison said too many people suffering from mental illnesses are afraid to come forward because of the negative societal stigma. Love is the Movement aims to provide a place where students can gather and discuss any feelings they may have with "zero judgment."

"The most important message of TWLOHA is you are not alone," Ellison said. "We live in a society where you are considered weird if you suffer from a mental illness. We need to be a society where you are able to receive help if you suffer from a mental illness."

Habla's interest in helping others and in TWLOHA has led her to pursue a minor in Health and Wellness.

"I want to make a difference at UB," Habla said. "If I can help even one person break out of their shell, start to overcome depression or stop self-harming, I will consider it a great success."