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.
"Text messaging allows counselors to speak with youth on their level," said Dr. C.J. Huff, Joplin Schools Superintendent. "It's how they communicate. This tool is going to provide a much needed layer of support so we can respond rapidly to the mental health needs of our kids."
Launched in 2005 and currently in use by more than 500,000 students nationwide, Talk About It was designed to provide an anonymous and confidential way for kids to 'speak up' using text or online messaging. With electronic communication, students can avoid the stigma of being seen reaching out to a counselor or faculty member for help.
"When disaster strikes, it's difficult for some students to feel normal when the world around them is still struggling with the challenges of recovering and rebuilding," said Carter B. Myers, vice president of Anonymous Communications Solutions at SchoolMessenger and co-developer of Talk About It. "We understand that for many at that age, meeting face-to-face with an adult or asking for assistance carries a stigma. By allowing them to step forward anonymously, using their communication tools of choice, they can speak up virtually, ask for help and learn about the variety of services available to them."