Text, Talk, Act to Improve Mental Health in Your School

By Goodrich, Raquel | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, November 2015 | Go to article overview

Text, Talk, Act to Improve Mental Health in Your School


Goodrich, Raquel, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Schools and communities continually strive to develop more effective methods of educating children and youth about mental health and how to access available resources. Despite this apparent need, several barriers prevent youth from engaging in discussion and taking action. Young people are of special concern since three fourths of all mental health disorders begin before age 24 (SAMHSA, 2015).

Approximately 20% of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive needed treatment (SAMHSA, 2015), implying that the majority of students in need never receive mental health services or support. This does not even account for the many students experiencing stressors that impact learning and behavior that may not warrant a diagnosable disability (e.g., exposure to community violence, family death or separation, homelessness). Stigma remains a significant factor contributing to this gap, as does the discomfort associated with discussing and approaching mental health concerns (Corrigan, Druss, & Perlick, 2014).

A rational approach is to promote dialogue about mental health, especially among young people. However, many find the topic difficult to cover for a variety of reasons. Text, Talk, Act offers a new way to get students talking about mental health using a fun, innovative platform that students enjoy.

TEXT, TALK, ACT

Text, Talk, Act (TTA; http://www.creatingcommunitysolutions.org/texttalkact), a program of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, is a result of President Obama's call for a national dialogue on mental health. TTA is an innovative discussion platform that uses text messaging to facilitate face-to-face conversations on mental health. Participants gather in small groups of approximately three to four people with one cell phone per group. After texting START to the number 89800, the group will begin to receive a series of text messages that guides them through a conversation on mental health. Text, Talk, Act facilitates discussion around why maintaining mental health is important, how to maintain it, and how to identify and help a friend in need. The text messages include videos, social media interactions, polling questions, and discussion questions. These discussions can be done with any group of people anywhere, as long as one person has a cell phone, and is completely free (aside from any relevant text message charges with the cell phone carrier). Since its inception, TTA has been used by educators, students, mental health organizations, and others to get people talking about mental health using an accessible, unique, and interactive format.

Facilitating such a conversation can be awkward or uncomfortable. Text, Talk, Act makes those obstacles easier to overcome. Part of what is so unique and effective about TTA is that it has the ability to reach young people wherever they are, using technology they are already comfortable with. Text, Talk, Act makes it easier to get discussions started, and provides the right questions to keep the discussion going. Furthermore, TTA gets people to take action.

EFFECTIVENESS OF TEXT, TALK, ACT

An independent evaluation of TTA in the spring of 2015 showed that TTA participation contributed to an increase in participants' ability to recognize a peer in need, ability to reach out to a peer in need, ability to talk about the topic of mental health, likeliness to seek additional information, and likeliness to implement information or skills from TTA (Bogart, Andrade, & Stevens, 2015).

Importantly, participants who reported having "slight" to "no" prior familiarity/knowledge with the topic of mental health, the availability of mental health resources/services, and the ability to recognize mental health issues in others at the beginning of TTA experienced the most significant improvement. Seventy percent of individuals who reported slight-to-no prior familiarity on the topic of mental health reported being moderately to extremely familiar with the topic after the conversation. …

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