Alberta's Text-4-Hope line building better mental health in the doom-and-gloom, research shows

·2 min read
More than 52,000 people have subscribed to the Text-4-Hope line since it started last March.
More than 52,000 people have subscribed to the Text-4-Hope line since it started last March.

(Shutterstock/KieferPix - image credit)

Nearly a year has passed since the COVID-19 Text-4-Hope line launched in Alberta, but since it was introduced, studies show subscribers to this text service are reporting lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

The texting service was launched in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many people were worried about the toll the pandemic would take on mental health. The Text-4-Hope line was set up by the provincial government to send daily reassuring messages like "You are not alone" or "Practise self-compassion."

People who text the line are automatically subscribed for three months, and they have the option to extend that subscription for another six months. Vincent Agyapong, a psychiatry professor at the University of Alberta, led the program and has been tracking its results.

"All the text messages have been crafted by cognitive behavioural therapists and psychologists to address anxiety, depression and stress," Agyapong said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active on Friday.

Since Text-4-Hope started, more than 52,000 people have signed up, with about 5,500 extending the subscription for the extra six months.

Those who subscribe are sent a link to an online survey asking them to measure their mental health status. They receive another survey after six weeks and again after three months to assess their levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

According to research published on Feb. 8, Agyapong and his team found that, when they signed up, nearly 85 per cent of respondents reported moderate to high stress, nearly half were at risk for an anxiety disorder and more than 40 per cent at risk for clinical depression.

After three months, the anxiety rates dropped by more than 20 per cent, depression levels went down by around 10 per cent and stress rates decreased by more than five per cent.

"When people are stressed, they become preoccupied with doom-and-gloom," Agyapong said.

"If you receive a daily inspirational message, it momentarily interrupts your negative pattern of thinking.

"Over a period of time, the thinking pattern shifts from that doom-and-gloom and worry to thinking more about the messages of hope and inspiration."

Agyapong says other similar texting projects are in the works, including a service tailored to people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, an Arabic-language version, and a youth version of the texting service.

"When fewer people need face-to-face intervention, then they can be able to access those services more rapidly and also more intensively if necessary," Agyapong said.