Beginning August 17, 2015, teenagers in McHenry County can use their preferred method of communication - text messaging - to reach out for help for themselves or a friend.
Text-a-Tip (http://www.leadingefforts.org/text-a-tip/) is available 24/7, is completely anonymous, and is staffed with licensed, trained counselors to support teenagers who have a concern or a crisis. Developed by a not-for-profit organization based in Lake Forest called LEAD (Linking Efforts Against Drugs), the app is a proactive tool that connects students to mental health resources anonymously. The app is currently being utilized in school districts and communities on the North Shore and is expanding into other school districts and communities around the country.
How it works: Students who wish to report a concern will text the word MCHELP to the 6-digit number 274637 and will receive an immediate text response from a trained, licensed clinician. Thanks to a system that routes calls through a cloaking server, texters are completely anonymous, allowing teens the freedom to reach out for help without fear.
Is It Really Anonymous? Texts sent to Text-A-Tip are untraceable. Here's how the cloaking server works: The exchange between student and clinician will typically consist of multiple text messages (an average of 8 messages) to resolve the concern.
The clinician will not be able to track a student's phone number or address (although the student may provide this information if he or she wishes). If the clinician receives enough information from the student and wishes to pursue further help for the student, he or she will notify the student's school administration or social worker and/or contact a trusted local mental health provider. If it is determined that the nature of the text message is a true emergency, the clinician will contact McHenry County emergency personnel.
Who's on the other end? Initially, licensed clinicians from the Child, Adolescent and Family Recovery Center (based in Hoffman Estates) will respond to McHenry County students' text messages as they are experienced with service and have been working with LEAD in the product's implementation and rollout in other communities. However, the Recovery Center will be working closely with the McHenry County Crisis Center, which plans to take over the service in 6-12 months.
Why Text for Help? Teenagers today use their devices in every aspect of their lives: education, entertainment, news, making friends and connecting with them. Text-A-Tip allows teens to find anonymous, immediate help for themselves or others who may be struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, depression, difficult family situations, bullying, or any of the many challenges teens face today.
Funding and Support: Text-A-Tip is sponsored by local McHenry County school districts and is being supported by local law enforcement and social service agencies. Thanks to the efforts of executive director Robin Doeden and development director Lisa Ruby of the McHenry County Community Foundation, funding for Text-a-Tip was secured from an anonymous, private donor. The funding covers initial launch and service in McHenry County for the next three years. Posters, fliers and stickers have been created for schools and students to help get the word out about the new service. Konica Minolta (Rolling Meadows) and Crystal Lake Graphics donated printing services.
According to Robin Doeden, executive director of the McHenry County Community Foundation, "We are pleased to partner with school districts across McHenry County to bring this new tool to our students. Making it possible for our student population to get the help and guidance they need, in a communications format they feel comfortable with, is what makes this such a unique and successful program." Doeden emphasizes that students today are using texting for all sorts of communications --with friends, parents, and employers – and that this is their reality and preferred method of communication. She says Text-a-Tip will provide students with the opportunity to ask for and receive help and support, in times of need and struggle, in a style they are not only comfortable with, but that allows for anonymity. "We are meeting their needs in the best way possible, and we at the Community Foundation take pride in being a part of it."