UC Berkeley lab creates free texting program to help people cope with COVID-19 stress

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- We're ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic and while physical health remains top of mind, for many, their mental health is still on the backburner.

A new program through UC Berkeley's Digital Health Equity and Access Lab hopes to help.

Dr. Adrian Aguilera is the director.

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"We want to target the folks with the fewest resources, in terms of services available and things like that," Dr. Aguilera said. "But, it really is open to everybody."

The free program is called StayWell at Home. Participants receive daily texts for 60 days that provide tips on managing the stress of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.

"This program is based in cognitive behavioral therapy which has years of research behind it in terms of showing effectiveness for improving symptoms of mental health such as depression and anxiety," Aguilera said. "The focus is on changing our thinking so it's more helpful for us, and more adaptive in a situation."

Participants receive texts such as: "You are a wonderful human doing the best you can in a difficult situation. What are three things you are grateful for?" or "Make a list of people that make you happy. Commit to reaching out to at least one of them each day this week."

"They are centered on coping skills and behavioral activation, so it's just really important to occupy our minds with things other than the coronavirus," said Alein Harro, a health policy doctoral student at UC Berkeley.
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Harro wants the program to reach as many Latinos and immigrants as possible. Throughout California, Latinos account for 56% of COVID-19 cases and 47% of deaths, which is disproportionately high compared to the population share of Latinos, which is 39%.

"The worries often times in the immigrant community is sharing information, and we really will not," Harro continued. "We won't know who you are. This is really just something that we hope can help at a population level."

Program participants have the ability to opt into a study on the texts. It's not required and is still anonymous. The research will be used down the line to analyze the mental health impacts of the pandemic.

At the end of the 60 days, participants that opt into the study will receive a $20 gift card.

For more information on StayWell at Home, click here.

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