To address the ongoing emotional needs of children and teens in the Joplin, Missouri area, Ozark Center, the behavioral health division of Freeman Health System, has partnered with Joplin Schools to offer more than 5,000 students the SchoolMessenger Talk About It® service, a free, 24-hour communication service that allows them to confidentially reach out for help using their cell phone or PC. Effective immediately, if any student within the district is faced with problems that might warrant adult intervention, including depression, family concerns, suicidal thoughts, or problems related to the aftermath of the 2011 tornado, they are encouraged to seek help sending a text or online message to a school staff member or an Ozark Center counselor.
Funding for the project is provided in part by Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization that strives to improve the health of those in the communities it serves, and the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund, established to distribute donations made on behalf of the community of Joplin in the wake of the May 2011 tornado. Overseen by a board of trustees appointed by the City of Joplin, the Joplin Tornado First Respond Fund aids organizations supporting the needs of tornado survivors living in Joplin and Duquesne.
"In its 47 years of operation, the Ozark Center has never experienced more need from the community than it has since the 2011 tornado. This is especially true among children and teens," said Phil Willcoxon, Ozark Center chief executive officer. "Research among adolescents tells us that one barrier to accessing crisis services is their unwillingness to meet face-to-face with adults or talk by phone with a crisis hotline counselor. Since cell phones and texting are undoubtedly the preferred communication method for students, this program allows them to reach out anonymously using the resources they find most convenient."
Joplin Schools students may access a counselor by texting "help" to 85130 or by logging on at 2TalkAboutIt.com. Ozark Center's Access Crisis Intervention Team will be available to respond 24/7. In addition, officials from Joplin Schools will access electronic messages from students.