The Chronicle Herald: Text4Support shows how technology can aid mental health care

A woman holding a toddler in her arms. Both of them are smiling at the camera.

Originally published by The Chronicle Herald. Pictured: Joselyn Nelson has been using Text4Support since last fall and finds it to be an accessible e-mental health tool that fits her needs.

There is an innovative text-based mental health service called Text4Support that is already having a positive impact on Nova Scotia’s healthcare system, and improving access to mental health care.

Text4Support sends supportive daily text messages to patients. These automated messages allow participants to feel connected to the healthcare system, while providing one more tool they can use to access the mental health care they need. Each text message has been crafted by mental health experts and is tailored to the person’s primary diagnosis.

Text4Support provides care for people living with anxiety, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, substance and alcohol use disorders, and many other mental health conditions. Research has shown that daily supportive text messages can be as effective as face-to-face treatment and can help reduce waitlist times, helping to ensure the right care is available for people when they need it.

Currently, Text4Support is available to Nova Scotians who are enrolled in a research study to test the efficacy of supportive text messages to improve mental health. The study – which will be funded by the QEII Foundation through its $100-million We Are campaign – will help create a program designed by and for Nova Scotians. Only possible with donor support, the goal is to ensure the program is available to every Nova Scotian who needs it.

The research is led by Dr. Vincent Agyapong, chief of psychiatry, Nova Scotia Health (Central Zone) and head of psychiatry at Dalhousie University. He created Text4Support along with other e-mental health tools. It has been effective in similar trials in Ireland and Alberta. The Text4Support program has also been recognized by the Mental Health Innovations Network, based at the World Health Organization as a first-of-its-kind mobile-based tool for addressing mental health.

“One of the benefits of Text4Support is that it doesn’t rely on human resources. Anything that relies on human resources is limited in terms of availability,” says Dr. Agyapong. “People will be able to access it in the thousands.”

Text4Support increases access for Nova Scotians to receive this proven mental health care, regardless of their geographical location. It is also cost-effective, costing the province $15 per person. Smartphone ownership is widespread and text messaging is free for the receiver and requires little technical skill. As Dr. Agyapong explains, this can be offered to patients as a first-line intervention while they are awaiting in-person care, or it can be a tool that some people use while accessing other forms of mental health support.

The low-cost tool is a huge benefit to the healthcare system, and it will help reduce the waitlist for others to access care. This program has the potential to improve the mental well-being of patients utilizing it, to the point that they may not need to access further therapist support, freeing up valuable resources.

Joselyn Nelson is a single mother living with bipolar disorder. She has been a Text4Support participant since Fall 2022 and has experienced first-hand the benefits of this innovative program. She appreciates its convenience and accessibility, allowing her to live her life, while also receiving messages with a gentle reminder to prioritize her mental health.

“I find the information, the little reminders and the hope-providers really helpful,” says Nelson. “The daily texts remind me to do things that are good for my mental health.”

Over the next three years, this research will impact 4,500 Nova Scotians. Dr. Agyapong is profoundly grateful to the QEII Foundation which is currently raising $100,000 to offer Text4Support to more people.

“When you're donating, you want your money to make the most impact,” says Dr. Agyapong.

“There's really no better way to let your money go far than to actually invest into the health of the community. Your generosity will be impacting a lot of people’s psychological well-being, which I think is a very worthy investment.”

Donors can help ensure this innovative program is available for everyone who needs it.

Learn more about Text4Support of donate today,