The Maryland Department of Health announced Wednesday that it has launched a new mental health initiative aimed at fighting the loneliness many people are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Staying connected with family, friends and other support systems is more challenging, and more important than ever,” said Robert R. Neall, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, in a statement. “In difficult times, it can make a difference to know you’re not alone.”
MD Mind Health is a new, text-messaging program created by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Behavioral Health Administration and Maryland 211 after officials recognized a substantial increase in calls to the state’s crisis hotline.
According to a news release, from February 2020 to March 2020 the crisis hotline saw a 45% surge in the number of calls received.
MD Mind Health uses a platform called Prevention Pays, which is based on an “evidence-based” suicide prevention technology called Caring Contacts. According to the news release, Caring Contacts encourages human connectedness through kind messages.
Participants in the state’s new program will receive text messages geared toward self-care and compassion, podcast recommendations, inspirational quotes and reminders that help is available around the clock through the 211 website and crisis hotline.
“Physical distancing has left many feeling more alone and isolated, and these feelings can fuel sadness, depression, cravings for substances and relapse, negative coping skills, thoughts of suicide and other mental health problems,” said Dr. Aliya Jones, Deputy Secretary for the Behavioral Health Administration, in a statement. “We must find healthy ways to respond.”
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late April found that 56% of Americans reported that the public health emergency has had some sort of negative impact on their mental health, including problems with eating and sleeping, exacerbated chronic conditions and substance abuse.
Those interested in participating can sign up by texting 898-211. Immediate mental health care can be accessed by dialing Maryland’s crisis hotline at 211.
“We must find healthy ways to respond. Even though we may not be seeing as much of each other, we don’t have to feel alone,” Jones said. “This texting initiative is another way to combat that.”