On May 1, Oak Park District 97, River Forest District 90 and OPRF High School District 200 launched a new mental health support service for middle- and high-school students called “support4u.”
The resource allows students to text licensed mental health clinicians at any time of the day for assistance with mental health-related issues, according to a statement D97 officials released earlier this month.
The program, officials said, is being funded by Oak Park and River Forest Townships, the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation and the Oak Park-River Forest Rotary Club.
“While students can initiate a text conversation on any issue, some of the matters that students wish to address could include anxiety, depression, substance use, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, bullying, abuse, or any other mental health-related topic,” the D97 statement pointed out.
If clinicians encounter students who present an “extreme threat of danger,” they can alert local authorities, but district officials said most of the interactions will “result in the student garnering immediate support from the clinician and being informed about local individuals (frequently school-based) who can assist them with their concern.”
The resource was created by a nonprofit in Lake County and is utilized throughout northern Illinois and several other states. The district said the police departments in Oak Park and River Forest are in support of the new resource.
During a regular D97 school board meeting last month, social workers and psychologists employed at the district’s middle schools said they’ve experienced a marked increase in the number of students dealing with mental-health issues.
Carolyn Doyle, one of two school social workers at Julian Middle School, said she had treated eight students who were having suicidal thoughts in a two-week period this school year.
And Nathan Murawski, Julian’s other social worker, said at the time that he had treated 22 students this school year who “presented self-harm to the point where they were hospitalized,” up from seven cases during the entire 2016-17 school year.
“Over the past five years, we have seen an ever-steady uptick in mental-health issues impacting our middle-school students,” Doyle said. “[Students are] accessing our services at unsustainable rates.”