Alberta first responders can access free daily texts to support mental health

Two free text messaging services have been launched to support the mental health of Alberta’s first responders.

“During the pandemic and beyond, they deal with many traumatic situations,” said project lead Vincent Agyapong.

“A lot of them end up experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) such as anxiety and depression.”

Read more: Peer support retreat for first responders dealing with PTSD developed in Cochrane, Alta.

Agyapong is a clinical professor of psychiatry and global mental health in the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. He is also a member of the U of A’s Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute.

The daily messages from Text4PTSI and Text4Well-being were created by mental health clinicians at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Edmonton, Agyapong and his research team, and first responders themselves.

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The messages are sent daily for six months from the same phone number through the app ResilienceNHope.

The content is designed to help emergency personnel cope positively with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep and suicidal thoughts.

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The messages are meant to help in a similar way that cognitive behavioural therapy sessions do, where a therapist helps a patient evaluate and challenge negative thoughts, feelings and emotions.

“There are natural emotions people feel after experiencing a traumatic event, so the messages validate and normalize those feelings,” Agyapong said.

“We hope to restore people to a sense of normalcy about their feelings.”

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First responders can access the messages by texting either “WELLBEING” or “PTSI” to 1-844-990-4343.

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The two text services can offer immediate support if the person is on a wait-list for services, already receiving face-to-face counselling or doesn’t feel comfortable using in-person supports, Agyapong explained.

“Sometimes there’s stigma preventing them from reaching out for the help and support they need in a face-to-face way.”

Read more: ‘It kind of clicks’: Alberta Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

About a third of the texts include online links to mental health information and support services.

“When they’re by themselves, people wouldn’t necessarily have the motivation to go look for these resources, so if we can deliver a link, they’re more likely to click on it and see what’s there for them,” Agyapong said.

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