Text-A-Tip gives McHenry County teenagers way to text for help

CRYSTAL LAKE – An anonymous texting service for McHenry County teenagers has been rolled out in the wake of the March suicides of two Crystal Lake teenagers.

The all-day, everyday texting hotline connects middle and high school students with licensed, trained clinicians, initially from the Hoffman Estates-based Child, Adolescent and Family Recovery Center, and, in six to 12 months, from the Woodstock-based McHenry County Crisis Center, a news release said.

The exchange will consist of multiple text messages, and while the clinician will not be able to track a student’s phone number or address, the student may provide the information, the release said. If the clinicians receive enough information and decide to pursue further help, they can notify school administration, a social worker or a local mental health provider.

If the messages indicate a true emergency, the clinician will contact emergency responders, the release said.

Denise Barr, community relations coordinator for Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, had been searching for resources following the deaths of a Crystal Lake South High School student who was fatally hit by a train and an 18-year-old Crystal Lake Central student who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Barr came across a similar texting service offered by north shore school districts and communities.

“Quite simply, we wanted to make sure that we’re providing our students with as many resources as possible,” Barr said, adding the app intrigued her because it was anonymous and it was texting.

Developed by a Lake Forest nonprofit organization called LEAD, or Linking Efforts Against Drugs, the app is designed to connect students to mental health resources anonymously as they or their friends struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, depression, difficult family situations or bullying.

It was developed following a string of adolescent suicides in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff area three years ago and implemented in January 2014, said the group’s executive director, Andy Duran. It has since expanded to other neighboring communities and is set to be exported to neighboring counties.

“It works because this is what students told us they wanted,” Duran said, adding teenagers specifically wanted something text-based, anonymous and local. The clinicians understand local issues and can connect students to local services.

Barr decided she wanted to bring the idea to McHenry County and said she immediately found support.

The McHenry County Community Foundation secured an anonymous donation to launch and fund the new Text-A-Tip service for three years, the release said. Posters, fliers and stickers have been created to raise awareness in all of McHenry County’s middle and high schools.

How it works:

Text MCHELP to 274637 to receive an immediate text response from a trained, licensed clinician. A system that routes calls through a cloaking server ensures that texters are completely anonymous.

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