NORTH PORT — Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida school districts are trying make sure students have access to mental health resources.
In Sarasota County, the school district has been adding different resources for students to access help.
In November, it was announced the school district partnered with the Barancik Foundation to make sure students know about the Crisis Text Line.
The Crisis Text Line connects youth and young adults with counselors and lets them text about things that are troubling them.
The text line is one of several new initiatives the district is working on to help students cope with mental health issues.
The Barancik Foundation gave the district a $14,300 grant to pay for stickers, posters and other materials to spread the word to students.
The partnership is part of a larger project by the Barancik Foundation. Through the use of the text line, the foundation will do a climate study which looks at where the county can provide better resources for mental health, according to Kelly Romanoff, projects manager for the foundation.
Romanoff said the point of the study will help the Barancik Foundation see where there are gaps in mental health for those between birth and the age of 24.
“(It’s) to study where the need is and the demographics,” Romanoff said.
The study is typical of the work that Barancik Foundation does, which launched the First 1,000 Days this year to help expectant mothers who live in poverty have access to proper pre- and post-natal care. Romanoff said the goal of the foundation to bolster the community and make sure that residents have access to the right resources.
Assistant Superintendent for Academics Laura Kingsley is excited to see the trends from the study, especially when the largest number of texters to the crisis line in the last year were under the age of 13. According to Kingsley, of the 25 million messages received by the text line, 10 percent of texters were under the age of 13.
“That blew me away,” Kingsley said.
Kingsley said the district elected to use the program because it was established and the district wants kids to have access to a variety of resources.
Kingsley also attended a talk that featured Crisis Text Line founder Nancy Lublin and it was how she was introduced to the text line. While the text line is supposed to supplement what the district already offers, Kingsley hopes students are turning to guidance counselors.
“We hope they are going to them first,” she said.
Kingsley does know students turn to guidance counselors, teachers and parents — but this is just an extra layer. The line also allows students to text and it was something the district looked at when looking for a new resource.
“We knew we needed to reach the kids with the medium they use,” Kingsley said.
While the text line is being advertised across schools, Kingsley said the district is using several other mediums to reach students.
Students in high school are given what the district calls a “call for help” card that features phone numbers and resources if they are struggling with mental health or other problems.
The district is also doing intensive work with mental health and now has full-time therapists at school sites. Kingsley said this was the first time the district has done this.
Along with the additional resources the district is also partnering with community organizations to provide multiple levels of support for students. One of those is First Step, which helps with addiction, Sandy Hook Promise to help identify the signs of gun violence, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“I feel like we are going to remove the stigma of mental illness,” Kingsley said.
District staff, including the school resource officers, are also being trained in mental health first aid, which while it won’t make them experts, according to Kingsley — it will help them identify different signs for someone who may be suffering.
She added that is something that affects everyone and not only should school staff be aware but the entire community.
Kingsley hopes that it will one day spread to the community and help those who may be struggling. She wants kids to know that they are there for them and they don’t need to struggle alone.
“We won’t cast them aside,” Kingsley said.