Albertans who feel they need a little extra mental health support as they face the COVID-19 pandemic have a new outlet to seek out advice.
Alberta Health Services, in partnership with hospitals and other health organizations, launched the Text4Hope program on Monday, a service where residents can text COVID19HOPE to the number 393939 and receive daily messages focused on healthy thinking and managing moods and emotions.
The free program sends a set of texts to subscribers each day that include cognitive behavioural therapy messages written by mental health therapists, AHS said on its website.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health encouraged people to use the service on Monday.
“Connection is so vitally important to our mental health and well-being,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“I encourage anyone who needs support to reach out to someone they trust, talk to a family member, friend, or someone they can be honest with to talk through concerns.”
Hinshaw said the text-based program aims to give Albertans encouragement and hope.
LISTEN: A new texting initiative is bringing hope to Albertans amid COVID-19 outbreak
Text4Hope was created in Alberta and is described as an “evidence-based tool that helps people identify and adjust the negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours a pandemic might be expected to provoke.”
The program is led by Alberta psychiatrist and research director, Dr. Vincent Agyapong, who provided a similar outlet to people during the Fort McMurray wildfires, the Mental Health Foundation.
The foundation said according to Agyapong, 10 per cent of Albertans will need mental health supports as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis, and while Text4Hope doesn’t take the place of traditional mental health treatment, it can “bring relief, support and therapeutic skill development to thousands of people.”
“It is a helpful option addressing the needs of people in self-isolation who can’t access face-to-face services, as well as those in remote locations,” the foundation said.
Subscribers will receive the text messages over three months, officials said, and the program costs about $4 per person for its duration.
The program is being run in partnership between AHS, the Mental Health Foundation, Calgary Health Trust, the University Hospital Foundation, the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
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