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Ways to Use SMS for Mental Health Communication in Schools

Struggling to get students to open up about mental health? Learn how to create a digital safe space where they can reach out and get access to resources with SMS.

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It’s no secret that young people are vulnerable during their school years, and mental health issues among students are a big problem.

According to the Healthy Minds Study, 60% of college students experienced at least one mental health issue in recent years, and one-third of high school students struggled with their mental health, too.

As an educator or administrator who cares about keeping students healthy and thriving, you’re always looking for new ways to connect with your young people and support them.

To do that, you need a communication method that’s instant, discreet, and reliable. SMS checks all of those boxes. 

Although you have a lot of choices in how you use texting to support your students, I have a few recommendations based on research and some creative use cases I’ve come across.

Let’s talk.


Why Should You Use SMS For Mental Health in Schools?

I’ll start with the obvious here: Your students are always reachable through text.

A recent study from JAMA Pediatrics found that adolescents spend nearly eight hours a day on their phones, up from nearly four hours a day pre-pandemic. 

If you want to get in touch with your students, texting them (or having them text you) is the way to do it. 

Not only that, but online SMS services offer school staff a unique opportunity: You can communicate with students about their mental health while keeping a fully visible record of those communications for better clarity and accountability.

Texting also gives students a more comfortable way to talk about their concerns without having to discuss difficult topics face-to-face. The prevalence of social media suggests that young people would often rather express themselves digitally, where they can think about and edit what they want to say before they say it.

How to Use Texting to Promote Student Mental Health

So, we’ve established that texting students works. But how can you best put it to use in your school?

Put Counselors in Touch With Students

School counselors are, by definition, there to help students when they’re struggling, whether with grades, social skills, or mental health issues. 

That said, it can be tough for students to walk into a counselor’s office or ask for help for fear that their peers might judge them for it.

Students may be more likely to seek out support if they can do it directly from their cell phones, which is why SMS makes a great channel for counselors to stay in touch with students who need their help.

Hi Andrew, thanks for reaching out today. You said you’re worried about midterms this year, do you want to tell me a little more about what specifically is stressing you out?

Send Out Mental Wellness Event Announcements

Schools commonly hold events to educate students about complicated social issues or wellness and self-care concepts. 

Because this is all important information for young people to hear (and because some of these events might take place outside of school hours), you’ll want to make sure that as many students as possible show up.

Hey Bridgeton High School! Don’t forget, our Stress Less meeting is coming up this Thursday at 6 PM. Meet in the library for snacks and some resources to help with school-year worries.

Send out texts announcing your upcoming event the week before it happens and the day before to make sure students don’t forget to attend. 

Follow Up After Assemblies

You hope the day never comes, but if something traumatic does happen at your school that could affect students’ mental health, it’s common practice to hold an assembly to break down what happened and communicate some coping strategies to help them through the aftermath.

Similar to seeking help from guidance counselors, students may have a tough time asking for help from grief counselors or school staff. 

On a personal note, the high school I went to held such an assembly after a tough moment within the student body. Just before the assembly ended, they let us know that our teachers would be standing outside the assembly hall during our lunchtime and encouraged us to talk to them.

Naturally, most of us shrank away from the idea and gathered together with our friends for support — I never saw a single student walk up to the teachers in the hall.

That’s why texting is a much better way to help students through hard times. Encourage students to text in a keyword or scan a QR code to start texting with staff members as a way to share their concerns.

That way, young people can talk privately to the adults who want to help them without any stigma or embarrassment. 

Open a Support Line

I’ve talked a lot here about tying texts to specific events in the lives of your students, but you can also use texts as an always-on lifeline for students who may be struggling with their mental health. 

Post the number for your support line in classrooms, on bathroom mirrors, in the cafeteria — basically, anywhere your students will see it.

Let them know that they can text their questions or worries to school staff and counselors at any time and that whatever they text in will stay between them and their counselor.

SMS for Mental Health Best Practices

Now that you’ve got a clearer idea of how SMS can work to your advantage in helping students manage their mental health, let’s go over some key best practices to keep in mind as you begin using it. 

  • Make sure you have student consent before you text them. This is common practice for texting anyone, but don’t forget this step when you’re texting students. You can easily ensure that you have express consent to text students by using methods like keywords and QR codes that require them to take action to agree to receive your texts. 
A look at setting up a keyword for a school mental health support line
  • Add your staff as team members to your texting account. Let’s face it, keeping up with several conversations is a lot of work for one person. You also want to make sure multiple people can monitor the conversations between staff and students on the account (just make sure your texting service allows admin members full visibility across the account).
  • Let students know who they’ll be getting in touch with. No one wants to send texts off into the void with no idea who’s going to see them, especially if you’re sending messages about your mental health. When you announce or advertise your texting program, list out the people who will be seeing and answering student messages. 
  • Give staff training and resources for communicating with students. Above all, you want crucial mental health communications to be consistent and effective across your team. Make sure you train whoever is handling your texts on how to address different student issues or crises, and set up message templates to keep texts standardized.
  • Gather student feedback to help improve your program. Of course, you can strategize and plan and research, but the best way to figure out whether your texting program is effective is to ask the people receiving the texts. Encourage students to share their feedback by texting out a survey every semester or year.

Keep Students Well With SMS

Between social pressure and stigma around mental illness, it can be difficult to get a clear picture of how young people are doing mentally.

Making students feel safe to reach out for help using a secure, confidential channel that they’re already comfortable with is the best way to dig into the heart of any issues they may be having.

Lily Norton
Lily Norton

Lily is a content marketing specialist at SimpleTexting. She specializes in making helpful, entertaining video content and writing blogs that help businesses take advantage of all that texting has to offer. When she’s not writing or making TikToks, you can find Lily at roller derby practice or in a yoga studio in the Seattle area.

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