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Maryland Health Department launches new text message service after 842% hotline surge over the past year

The Maryland Department of Health has announced a new text message-based mental health initiative to help people continue to cope with social distancing and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

The new initiative, MD Mind Health, was spurred by crisis hotline texting increasing by 842% since March 2019, the department said in a news release Wednesday. It also is a low-cost intervention that can reach and attract more people, such as teens, young adults and those in rural areas.


An extension of the health department’s outreach, the new program will provide supportive mental health messages and remind recipients about the immediate mental health services available in the state. The new service was developed by the health department’s behavioral health administration and the state’s crisis hotline, Maryland 211.

“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. “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.”


From March 2019 to March 2020, crisis hotline “chats” jumped nearly 84% and calls 25%. The agency said that from February to March 2020, when the coronavirus started to emerge in Maryland, calls increased by 45%.

According to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of Americans, 56%, reported in late April that COVID-19 had at least one negative effect on their mental health, the health department said. Before the virus, the health department said, the most common mental health problem was anxiety.

To opt in to the service, text 898-211 for self-care tips, suggested actions, recommended podcasts and apps, inspirational quotes, and information on how to find community resources and get help if needed.

“Staying connected with family, friends and other support systems is more challenging, and more important than ever,” said Health Secretary Robert R. Neall. “In difficult times, it can make a difference to know you’re not alone.”