Innovative Program Uses Smartphones to Talk to Youth About Mental Health


On Tuesday, April 14 and Thursday, May 7, thousands of kids, teenagers and young adults will participate in Text, Talk, Act, an innovative program that combines text messaging, face to face conversation, social media and community organizing to help people move discussion of mental health issues out of the shadows and into the public consciousness. The program was created after President Barack Obama directed then-Secretary of the Department of Health Kathleen Sebelius and Secretary Arne Duncan of the Department of Education to encourage a “national conversation to increase understanding about mental health.” The video below shows how it works.

Creating an accessible way for people to have conversations about mental health is deeply important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 57% of people believe that people are caring and sympathetic toward others with mental health issues but only 25% of people with mental health issues share that belief. Recent events such as the tragic suicide of a student at Brown University show the necessity of bringing the physical and mental wellbeing of youth and young adults into the forefront of public consciousness. Text, Talk, Act provides an opportunity to be proactive about talking about what’s happening and what we can do together to create healthier outcomes for our communities. Many young people are eager for this kind of conversation but do not have spaces in their lives where it can happen. The Text, Talk, Act movement provides a way for young people to connect with each other and with adults in a nonthreatening manner where everyone enters the conversation on equal footing.

This program is particularly important in opening the conversation about meeting the mental health needs of youth of color. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, people of color receive less care and poorer quality care than white people. Some barriers that prevent people of color from seeking services include mistrust, different cultural ideas about illnesses and health, variations in language and communication patterns, racism and discrimination. The texting platform used by the program is exciting because it has a better chance at reaching people of color than programs administered online. Black and Latino people use text messaging at significantly higher rates than white people. Just over half of white people text but 70% of all African Americans and English-speaking Latinos use text messaging.

Text, Talk, Act is by no means a treatment tool but it is an excellent way for people affected by mental health issues to talk about their experiences and to share ideas about what they can do in their communities to address some of these concerns and challenges. It is a positive force for developing stronger relationships and increasing awareness about mental health.

This will be the fourth cycle for Text, Talk, Act. Three previous conversations were held in December 2013 as well as April and October 2014, with more than 14,000 participants from all 50 states. The events garnered more than 4 million social media impressions. The participation goal for the upcoming April and May conversations is 15,000 people, with a continued emphasis on youth involvement.

Text, Talk, Act will hold two national events on Tuesday, April 14 (in collaboration with Active Minds' Stress Less Week) and Thursday, May 7 (in partnership with SAMHSA's National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day). People who organize Text, Talk, Act conversations on either of these days can enter a contest to win $1,000 for their school or community organization. Anyone can try out Text, Talk, Act now through June 2015 by texting START to 89800 to sample the discussion.

Text, Talk, Act is part of Creating Community Solutions, a collaborative associated with the National Dialogue on Mental Health that helps communities across the nation organize community conversations about mental health. Text, Talk, Act’s partners include the University of Arizona National Institute for Civil DiscourseEveryday DemocracyDeliberative Democracy ConsortiumActive MindsNational Association of School PsychologistsAmerican School Counselor AssociationEntertainment Industries Council, Inc., and Populove. A full list of promotional partners is available here.

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