ATLANTA -- Teens in crisis in Fulton County have a new place to turn for help by way of an untraceable text line that connects them with important resources.
"Our youth face so many stresses in this day and age and with the recent rash of school shootings, they worry more than ever. We are so proud to be the first in the Southeast to launch the Text 4 Help program," said Fulton County Vice Chairman Bob Ellis, who introduced the idea after the success of the program in the Chicago area.
Text 4 Help is an anonymous crisis text line that gives struggling high school students direct access to a licensed clinician from CHRIS 180, an agency that contracts with the Fulton County Department of Behavioral Health.
It started in early 2018 in several Fulton County high schools in the north and south parts of the districts.
"There's so much pressure on teens today, there's so much pressure," said Monica McGannon, licenced clinical social worker (LCSW) director of Fulton County, CHRIS 180. "They don't want to talk. They want to text. It feels safer for the kids. I went back and forth 24 times with one of the kids I had."
In the first nine months of the program, students sent 466 text messages. Here are some examples:
- "No one understands me"
- "I'm afraid of failing"
- "My friend is suicidal."
- "I don't have any friends."
"I think it's great. I personally have never had to use it, but I have had friends that do," said Jack Miller, who is senior class president at Milton High School. "I think that outlet where you can text someone and get help if you're not comfortable sharing that information is extremely important."
Milton, Cambridge High School, Roswell High School and Langston Hughes High School are already using Text 4 Help.
Six more high schools are being added: Alpharetta High School, Banneker High School, Chattahoochee High School, Johns Creek High School , Riverwood High School and Tri-Cities High School.
Each school has a unique identification code that students can use to accompany their phone number. They are not required or even encouraged to give any personal information.
Texts are routed through a cloaking service to ensure anonymity.
"We're not going to make anything magically fabulous. It's just a place for you to call that is safe, and we will listen and will help you get to the right place you need to get to for help," added McGannon.
Students can text 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average response time is less than three minutes.
"Many texting programs are designed for students to report safety concerns, but this initiative links them with a licensed mental health expert who can help them work through all types of issues --academic problems, relationships, substance abuse and more. Youth now have a skilled clinician -- and friend -- at their fingertips, 'round-the-clock, to offer them support and resources," added Vice Chairman Ellis.
So far, no students have used the text line to report suicidal thoughts. If they do, their phone cannot be traced. Licensed clinicians are trained to guide them to the help they need.
"Text 4 Help's on-demand mental health support is offered in a modality that is best suited for our students, said Chelsea Montgomery, executive director of counseling, psychological and social work services for Fulton County Schools.
The program was founded by Andy Duran, executive director of the nonprofit agency Linking Efforts Against Drugs (LEAD) in 2014 in Lake County, Illinois.
It's now available to 10 million youth nationwide. In Fulton County, Text 4 Help is funded by a grant from the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority.
The goal is to expand the program to all 19 high schools in the district and introduce it to the middle schools.