SaskWell is a free, text-based mental health support program. Image courtesy SaskWell.

Texting tool aims to support mental health

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers are recruiting participants for a text-based mental health support program.

By WCVM Today

The project is led by Tracie Risling, an associate professor in the USask College of Nursing, who was awarded $170,487 by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in fall 2020 to develop the program. It’s designed to help people gain access to mental health services, particularly emerging online services that address challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As nurses, we want to make sure our work includes a focus on issues of social justice and equity, and learn more about who is at risk of being left behind in a digital world as we see incredible advances in virtual care and digital health as part of the pandemic response,” says Risling.

The researchers are recruiting Saskatchewan residents over the age of 16 to participate in the SaskWell service, a 10-week program connecting users to evidence-based weekly wellness tips and resources. The service’s goal is to support individuals in building positive coping and self-care skills.

Interested participants can sign up for the service by texting ‘JOIN’ to 759355, by clicking, or by calling a toll-free number (1-855-237-5934).

The program is a collaboration between USask researchers and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ont. The SaskWell research team’s patient co-investigator is Tyler Moss, a professional patient advocate and staff member of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Veterinary Pathology.

The project is designed to provide supportive mental health messaging. It includes resources to combat misinformation, replacing a surplus of information noise with positive mental health directives, resources and supports.

At a time when a barrage of misinformation on social media — described as an “infodemic”— is adding to the mental strain of coping with pandemic-related stressors such as job loss and social isolation, text messaging from trusted health care sources with evidence-based information is an opportunity to enhance wellness, says Risling.

The texting project will also use short polls to engage citizens, enabling the team to respond quickly to evolving pandemic challenges and information needs.

With files from USask Research Profile and Impact.