FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Many parents worry their teens spend too much time on their phones, but a new Fulton County School initiative uses texting as a tool to promote student health. 

The school district, with the help of Fulton County Commissioner Bob Ellis, has established an anonymous crisis texting line for teens. 

The program, called Text 4 Help, can help students reaching out for advice on issues ranging from academic stress to depression to substance abuse. It will now be offered in 10 high schools across the district.

Through the program, teens can connect with a licensed clinician who will respond within three minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Students just need to text their message along with their school’s unique code to the number 1-844-823-5323. Texts are routed through a cloaking server to ensure anonymity.

Ellis said the all-day service was just one of the pros of a texting program. 

“[Teens] certainly live in an electronic world and are comfortable with that medium, but I also know many of them have reticence about coming forward and sharing stuff with parents and others about the challenges that they’re facing,” he said.

Fulton County Schools initially launched a pilot program with just a few schools in January 2018. 

This school year the program expanded so it now includes Alpharetta, Banneker, Cambridge, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Langston Hughes, Milton, Riverwood, Roswell and Tri-Cities High Schools.

Ellis noted schools need to be sure students know about the program for it to have its maximum impact. Some schools have hung posters and included information about the program in email newsletters to get the word out. 

The texting program was created by Linking Efforts Against Drugs (LEAD), a nonprofit agency based in Illinois. Ellis said he was looking into strategies other communities had used to combat the opioid epidemic, and found the program had been successful with teens in suburbs of Chicago.  

“It’s really about early intervention,” Ellis said. “It’s just one more tool out there that we can utilize to help our children live more healthier lives, and mental health is definitely one component of a healthier life.”

Ellis and the school district say they hope to eventually expand the program into all 19 county high schools and potentially middle schools. The Text 4 Help line is funded by a grant from the Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority. 

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