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Five hospital foundations have teamed up to create a texting service for Albertans in need of support.  (Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation)

Virtual comfort in a time of no joy

Text4Hope brings daily support to Albertans feeling
stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic
By Austin Connelly

IN RESPONSE to the growing COVID-19 emergency, five hospital foundations have joined together to create a free supportive text-messaging service for Albertans dealing with stress or anxiety.

The low-cost and research-based initiative saw more than 9,000 Albertans sign up in just one day. Anyone can subscribe by texting “COVID19HOPE” to 393939.

Subscribers will receive daily cognitive behavioural therapy-support text messages for three months, to reduce stress and anxiety without face-to-face therapy or the health-care staff members, who would usually be available.

“We thought, there’s a low-cost scalable option to provide people with just a little simple message every day on how to ensure that they’re maintaining their mental health,” says Mark Korthius, President and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, which donated $500,000 to the project. “Seems simplistic, but it can get to the masses really quickly and every day, and so that’s why we think it’s an important preventative intervention for all persons during this unprecedented time.”

One Text4Hope message reads: “When bad things happen that we can’t control, we often focus on the things we can’t change. Focus on what you can control; what can you do to help yourself (or someone else) today. You can read some helpful tips here.”

The initiative is the product of five major Albertan hospital foundations:

      • Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation
      • Calgary Health Trust
      • Mental Health Foundation
      • Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation
      • University Hospital Foundation

At first, they expected 20,000 Albertans to subscribe over the next six months, in the hopes of significantly lowering people’s stress levels. However, that number hit over 27,000 in the first five days and grew to more than 35,000 subscribers as of April 3.

The Text4Hope mission statement reads, in part: “We hypothesize that at least 80% of subscribers would express satisfaction with the Text4Hope program and perceive the daily supportive text messages as contributing to their overall mental wellbeing.”

A statement from the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation website says this about the initiative:

“One of the biggest benefits to Text4Hope is that it offers immediate support when experiencing stress and anxiety,” says Dr. Vincent Agyapong, Clinical Section Chief for Community Mental Health in AHS Edmonton Zone, who developed the program in partnership with the AHS Addiction and Mental Health department. “The program isn’t intended to replace therapies or interventions, but is rather another added support to someone’s overall care plan.”

The program is an iteration of Text4Mood, which was developed by Agyapong during the Fort McMurray wildfires to help people there deal with high levels of stress in the community.

“Just to put it in perspective, from a scale level, Text4Mood after the Fort McMurray wildfires – which was a travesty and one of the worst natural disasters we’ve seen here in Alberta – they had 25,000 subscribers in two years,” Korthius says. And this Txt4Hope program had 25,000 subscribers in two days.

For more information on ways to reduce stress, you can visit Alberta Health Services.

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