MOUNT JULIET, TN (WSMV) - Saving lives, by spotting the warning signs.

A Midstate school system is using technology to pick up on red flags of possibly suicidal students.

They're using software to comb through student emails and online posts. What started out as a technology to monitor online activity, looking for threats made by students has evolved to look for specific language indicating a student is using drugs, sending inappropriate pictures, or wants to harm themselves.

Jessica Cantrell, the counselor at West Wilson Middle School, believes this will end up saving lives.

“Self-harm, suicide, overdosing, I just want to cut myself. All those key words are red flagged and we're able to jump in and help when those kids wouldn't normally reach out for help in the first place,” Cantrell said.

She said the biggest challenge facing young people today is their desire to be "connected" through social media and texting.

“Seeing them interact with their phones more than they interact with each other breaks my heart,” Cantrell said.

She said young people are conditioned to have everything at their fingertips. That constant connection can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

She said the technology used by Wilson County Schools is already helping students and parents.

“It's incredibly important. Just today, I talked to a parent who had no idea what her child was posting on social media,” Cantrell said. “We start picking up on those red flags that the kids don't realize we see.”

They want students to know, it's not a joke.

“Anytime a student says they wish to hurt themselves, or they're thinking about suicide, we take them very very seriously,” Cantrell said. “We always do a risk assessment to make sure they're OK. We contact parents so parents are in the loop. We offer mental health resources.”

With nearly 100 people moving to the Midstate each day, Cantrell said students who've relocated can become depressed as they keep tabs on the life they left behind.

“If they move, they see what all their old friends are doing, at their old school, and they see it without them. That causes a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” Cantrell said. “They don't learn to adapt as easily as people who are older who didn't have that access to technology.”

Already this school year, Wilson County Schools red flagged 11 cases involving a combination of suicidal comments, inappropriate pictures and drug use. They believe this technology will help stop students from heading down a dark path.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Edward Burch joined News4 at a reporter in December 2016. Edward currently covers growth stories in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

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