Pictures worth a thousand words

Believe you deserve everything you dream about.

This is the message that Angela Lagano has on a sheet of paper in a photograph she will share with students as part of an art project for the group, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).

The USF chapter of TWLOHA is preparing to host its first big event, “Live Out Loud: The 30-second Art Project,” on Thursday at The Province clubhouse to raise awareness for teens with issues in drugs and depression. And the project centers on this question: “If you could say one thing that the whole world would hear, what would you say?”

Students, as well as anyone from across the country, are encouraged to write an answer on a piece of paper and take a picture of it. The photos will then be uploaded to a Facebook group.

On Thursday, all the submitted photos will be on display in a theater room.

Lagano, a double major in criminology and psychology and president of the TWLOHA-USF Chapter, said the event aims to bring hope to those without it.

“I feel like hope is something everybody should have, and no one should feel like the only way out is to kill themselves,” she said.

TWLOHA has come a long way in its four-year existence. It started as an isolated group in Cocoa Beach and has steadily grown. Lagano started the USF chapter in January after she volunteered for a MOVE conference in Canada – a workshop that helps inform people about the group’s message.

“The thing with depression and suicide or mental health issues is they’re really stigmatized,” Lagano said. “No one wants to talk about someone cutting themselves – no one wants to talk about suicide, or that they’re sad all the time. It needs to be talked about because studies show that the more it’s talked about the less it happens.”

Lagano said she’s been personally impacted by it.

“My friend was a freshman at Stetson University,” she said. “He shot himself on campus after waiting in a hospital for eight hours without receiving help.”

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24 – after traffic crashes and homicide. It is the second-leading cause of death among college students. TWLOHA hopes to offer a positive message for young adults to get involved and speak out about suicide, as a start to preventing it, according to its Web site.

Lagano’s aim with the art project is “to start a conversation.”

“The quotes can be funny, inspirational, Bible verses, anything,” she said. “They’re all different. It’s not completely serious.”

Ashley Baptista, a junior elementary education major and vice president of TWLOHA-USF, said the group just wants to open its doors for people to come in and talk.

“We just want to get people involved,” Baptista said.

Lagano and Baptista hope to raise enough money for a house tour at the end of the month. They also hope to start a scholarship fund to help pay for addiction, suicide and self-injury rehab.

“People with open wounds won’t be covered by insurance and won’t speak up,” Lagano said.

It also becomes a problem for students who are silenced by school.

“If you’re in medical school and you go for help for mental health issues, that goes on your record,” she said. “That can stigmatize your whole career.”

Amber Rosa, a junior majoring in biology, joined the group after hearing about it at her church, which held several concerts for the organization.

“Music was a major influence,” Lagano said. “Word got out about TWLOHA through Paramore, Switchfoot, Underoath and other bands.”

Rosa said she knows people misunderstand the group.

“Some people think they’re just a bunch of suicidal kids,” she said. “We just want to get the word out that it’s a real problem.”

Lagano offers her number to anyone who wants to talk, but she refers students to Crisis Center Tampa Bay and the 1-800-SUICIDE hotline, as well as USF counselors.

“These are their students – that’s what they’re here for,” she said.

More information on the 30-second art project is at The project ends this week with the picture screening at The Province, but for the group, the journey continues.

“The most important message for people dealing with these issues is that it takes courage and it takes bravery to ask for help,” Lagano said. “Suicide should never be a way out. There’s hope and there’s help. If someone’s going through this, hope is there.”