By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – For the nation’s youth, life is lived online.  So that’s exactly where Dallas ISD and a local tech company start up are going to help them spot signs of depression.  You guessed it:  there’s an app for that – or there soon will be.

“There is no denying it, there is a youth mental health crisis,” says Jennifer Reed, a DISD Director of Clinical Services in the Mental Health Services area.  “Our students have experienced a highly traumatic event and it is our duty as mental health professionals as educators, as anyone who cares for youth, to answer the call to be there to support.”

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Reed echoes warnings that are now coming from all corners: the mental health of young Americans likened to a pile of dry wood.  And the pandemic, experts say, has lit the match.

“Whether it’s home life, whether it’s social media, whether it is being heard, whether it is being able to express their emotions…There’s so much that is underlying for our students and this has only added to that to that kindling.”

1 in 4 students suffer from mental illness. (Credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Dallas ISD has already invested millions in more counselors to boost mental health services to students.  Now with help from a United Way Health Innovation Technology grant, the district is working with a local tech start up to create a mental health smoke alarm and put it where young people live.

“They all carry one of these,” says Phil Ritter, CEO of Dallas based GreenLight VitalSign6, while waving a cell phone.  Ritter says the goal of his company is to end undiagnosed and therefore untreated depression.

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“This app asks a series of questions that indicates whether someone is suffering from depression and how severe their symptoms are,” explains Ritter.  “So the ability to do depression screenings on personal electronic devices is important,

but so too is the ability to transmit securely with a high level of privacy, those measurements to people who can help a student get better, such as clinicians in DISD, health systems who are set up to receive it, or even parents and friends.”

The goal is to have the app ready for testing in about a year.  But if something is troubling you right now, the message from district experts is direct.

“Parents don’t wait,” says Reed.  “Listen to your child. You know your child best. You know your child better than anyone. If there is something that is not okay. Then reach out for help.”

Reed says she is encouraged that students are more aware of mental health issues and many know that help is available.  Now, the district is working hard to reach those that don’t know they need it.

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“I know that there’s so much hope happening today in the mental health landscape. It is not something that is only for a select few,” says Reed, “it is for everyone.  And bringing that to the forefront is so important not just for our students, but our families and our communities.”