Last week, Kelley Marchant’s students at Rex Putnam High School in Milwaukie, Oregon, kept checking their phones.
After all, that was their class assignment. In groups of 4-5 students, they shared stories and viewpoints of how mental illness affected them, their friends, and their families, and what they could do to bring mental illness out of the shadows. Periodically, a text message arrived, bearing the next discussion topic.
This was a pilot jointly developed by Textizen and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, as part of an effort to scale the Center’s previously successful work in enabling face-to-face discussions about mental health. In the past, the Center shared discussion guides and trained facilitators with schools across the country.
Textizen and DDC’s Matt Leighninger worked together to adapt the previous discussion format to the text-message medium, while keeping it open, welcoming, and educational. Facts such as “1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in any given year” and “Half of all adult mental health problems begin at age 14” introduce the topic and helped participants understand its breadth. Then, discussion prompts explore why it’s difficult to talk about mental health; how this issue affects students, friends, and family, and what steps we might take to help address mental illness.
At the end, more than 75% of students made action commitments, ranging from organizing a bigger discussion to helping a friend who’d previously been denied medical attention.
Facilitating these dialogues by text lowers the burden on organizers, allowing the program to truly scale. With the Text, Talk, + Act pilot, not only is Textizen connecting individuals with organizations, it’s also a chance to build face-to-face microcommunities, one text at a time.