Today, two thumbs and a mobile phone can inflict more lasting injury than the two fists of a traditional neighborhood bully.
Technology-driven bullying has become particularly prevalent among teens, and the resulting intimidation and humiliation can be tragic when, at their worst, they help drive the recipient to suicide.
That’s why the Student Leadership Group from the suicide-prevention organization Davidson LifeLine decided to turn their phones into tools for teaching their peers about behavioral health.
The students implemented a program called “Text, Talk, Act” at Cannon, Community School of Davidson, Hough and Lake Norman Charter high schools. Their effort earned them a $1,000 award from Creating Community Solutions, the national organization that created Text, Talk, Act.
While other students across the country have implemented the program, the Davidson LifeLine group’s work was different, said Susan McCormack, community liaison for Creating Community Solutions.
“Many of our participants have successfully organized Text, Talk, Act through a specific class or club,” McCormack said. “The Davidson LifeLine students were able to organize across several school systems and, as a result, they engaged an unprecedented number of students in an important conversation about mental health.”
About 1,000 students in the four schools spent time in small groups gathered around a single mobile phone, where a series of questions texted from Creating Community Solutions led them through a discussion about mental health.
In a normal setting, those discussions can be awkward, participants said.
“From my own experiences with my own friends, I used to find it almost impossible to discuss any topic involving mental health seriously due to the fear of me being seen as crazy or messed up,” said Davidson LifeLine Student Leadership Group member Carlos Sanchez, a recent graduate of Lake Norman Charter who will attend UNC Charlotte in the fall.
“Text, Talk, Act helps people understand that every human being has had to come face-to-face with mental health in their lives, whether it’s through their own internal conflicts or of someone close to them.”
Sanchez said administrators at Lake Norman Charter were receptive to the program from the beginning.
“They felt the discussion of mental health is one we had not truly had in our school yet,” he said. “They believed it was something that all students should be exposed to, and the parents of the students felt the same way.”
The sessions were held during English class, and school counselors were on hand in case they were needed. As receptive as the school was, though, Sanchez said it was the response from students that most impressed him.
“When putting anything on for teenagers, your fear is whether they would actually take it seriously and act maturely,” he said. “The students at LNC handled this exquisitely. Every group was deep into this meaningful conversation, respected every word their group members and the program organizers had to say, and their proactive approach and desire to improve the state of mental health has increased tremendously.”
The sessions typically involved five students and one mobile phone to which Creating Community Solutions texted one question at a time. When the group finished discussing each question, the student with the phone would send a one-word text back to Creating Community Solutions, which would send the next question.
“Some of the ‘talk’ questions were things like, ‘Do you think mental health has a negative connotation?’ and ‘Has anyone in your life had a mental health problem?’ and ‘What was a rough time in your life and how did you get through it?’” Sanchez said. “The ‘act’ questions were things like, ‘What has been done in your community to improve the state of mental health?’ and ‘What do you do to keep good mental health?’”
Davidson LifeLine president Lynn Hennighausen said the students have been an inspiration to adults in the organization, which was created in 2012 after Davidson experienced five suicides and a dozen attempted suicides in a year.
“They’ve shown tremendous poise, grace and leadership,” Hennighausen said. “Plus, lifelong friendships were formed between many of them.”
John Deem is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for John? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.