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Nova Scotia psychiatrist seeing success with text-based mental health program


All three Maritime premiers will join their counterparts in a meeting Tuesday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss health-care funding. The provinces want more money from Ottawa to boost spending in all areas of health-care delivery.

Dr. Vincent Agyapong, the chief of psychiatry at Nova Scotia Health and Dalhousie University, is leading a study into a new text-messaging program to improve mental health for patients in the system.

Text4Support offers daily supportive text messages to patients receiving treatment for mental health and addiction issues.

“The text messages are actually tailored to the specific primary area of concern. So for example, if there is a patient that’s presenting primarily with depressive symptoms, they can opt-in to receive daily supportive text messages that are CBT-based and address their depressive symptoms,” Agyapong said during an interview with CTV Atlantic’s Todd Battis.

“We have some for psychosis, some for bipolar disorder, some for personality disorders, and some for general well-being as well.”

Text4Support is still being researched and not readily available to Nova Scotians, though Agyapong says its effectiveness has been seen during two randomized controlled trials for patients with depression in Dublin, Ireland, and in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“We achieved almost the exact same results where a patient received daily supportive text messages for the major depressive disorder diagnosis, actually did better in about 50 per cent improvement in their depressive symptoms compared to patients who did not receive intervention,” he said.

However, he adds that what works for one population may not necessarily work for another.

“I think it’s more trying to contextualize evidence of effectiveness for the Nova Scotian population so that we are not just taking evidence from Alberta or Dublin and just believing it’s going to work the same for the people of Nova Scotia.”

Agyapong says more than 60,000 people participated in the research study in the first year of the pandemic.

“Eighty-five per cent of over 14,000 people who completed a survey that were assisted with it actually reported they felt connected to a support system. And about 83 per cent reported that intervention helped improve their overall mental well-being.”

Agyapong believes “everybody” will benefit from the program.

“The Dublin study was with an in-patient population who have been discharged and the study in Fort McMurray was with an outpatient population, so everyone, regardless of your diagnosis, there’s actually something in there for you.”

While it is a virtual program, Agyapong says Text4Support isn’t intended to replace the need for face-to-face treatment -- it actually complements it.

“Not just here in Nova Scotia, all around the world, if you can have an intervention that’s first-line, and certainly even if you have 20 per cent of the population that are benefitting to the extent that their symptoms either improve, does not get worse, or they no longer require treatment with formal mental health services, it makes the face-to-face intervention more readily available for those who actually need it,” he says.

“So for example, if you take intake services, and they have a hundred people calling today that they want to see a mental health therapist, it’s not possible for any of them to see anybody tomorrow or the next day … but you can enroll all 100 of them in this program to begin to receive some level of support until somebody can connect with them face-to-face.” Top Stories

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