Transforming mental health conversations with text messages

Texting icon“The things in our heads are very important, we just don’t talk about them enough.” Anxiety, stress, and sadness are normal, healthy aspects of life; however, when societal stigma keeps us from talking about issues the resulting silence is anything but healthy. Text, Talk, Act, is aiming to break this silence, and cultivate a conversation around mental health.

In our three part series we meet people working on the front lines towards this goal. Their voices are joined by the text messages of Text, Talk, Act participants, who have taken part in the conversation to make a difference. The talk around mental health is personal, powerful, and raw, and hearing it might just cause you to act.

In part one, we meet Basant, Kayhl, Krystal, and Tim, who will be our guides throughout the series. They outline the Text, Talk, Act process and illustrate the program's unique qualities. Their reflections on the state of social awareness around mental health issues show us the power of, and need for, improved education. The importance of diversity is discussed, illuminating the inclusive nature of Text, Talk, Act. Part one concludes by affirming the role of this initiative in raising awareness, and the speakers encourage us to join the conversation.

Related links:


Download this episode (right click and save)



Basant: Changing human behavior can be pretty difficult, and changing a whole nation's behavior or a whole culture of people, some people have said it's like boiling the ocean, and it's hard to know how to start that and what to do. So Text, Talk, Act is a program designed to do just that. Trying to change a whole environment a whole mindset of the whole nation.

Kayhl: Text, Talk, Act is a program that allows people to access a conversation about mental health that’s very informed and collaborative, via texting.

Basant: These series of questions start being texted to your phone. First, you watch a video, and every time you get through one prompt, you text a word back that says you finished, and a new prompt gets sent to you, and some of these prompts include questions like times you have had trouble with your mental health.

Tim: It’s perfect for youth in school, because even if they’re just going through it with other students—and there's not a teacher around, there's not an adult around—the questions are so open and so understandable that it’s easy to have five kids sitting in a room, and look at a text message that says, “Have you ever felt this way?” and be able to speak to the entire group, everyone being honest and saying, “Yes, I have,” or, “No, I haven’t.”

Basant: We collect data as we can, based on the multiple-choice questions, and we also ask ideas, “What would you do if you could change something about mental health? What could your community do? What could your country do? We collect those answers, and we submit them to elected officials, we submit them to people who could help take action on those ideas.”

Kayhl: I’m Kayhl Cooper and I have a freelance video production business, which is what brought me to doing some work with Text, Talk, Act, and kind of finding out more about mental health in general.

Krystal: My name is Krystal Roach. I’m a graduate student at Baltimore. I got involved in Text, Talk, Act in undergrad at Coppin State university through Active Minds.

Tim: My name is Timothy Cox, and I first heard about Text, Talk, Act when I entered one of their contests and became one of the top ten people to get others to join Text, Talk, Act, not long after I started doing some volunteer working with them. And it’s just become a huge part of my life.

Basant : My name is Basant Virdee. I’m working at the NICD under the capacity of Communications Coordinator. My motivation was trying to help as many people as I can by changing our political discourse, and through Text, Talk, Act.

Kayhl: Coming into it I didn’t really know what Text, Talk, Act was, and things like mental health awareness weren’t even on my brain at the time, it was not something that I thought about on a daily basis. So, coming into the video, it was really interesting to find out about all of that through Text, Talk, Act as a program.

Krystal: I got involved with Text, Talk, Act when it was just beginning, so I tried to start it at my Active Minds chapter. I got involved with the brain trust, which was just to prove what we can do to get more people engaged. Then I started really intensely planning it at my university.

Tim: I was running a Youtube show, at the time, that had a huge audience in Lady GaGa fandom. We did a lot of stuff like Text, Talk, Act, to try and help people become more comfortable with taboo topics, such as mental health.

Kayhl: So I Basically found people and just friends that I knew around my community, and I got them to participate in a session of Text, Talk, Act. When one of the questions would come up, there might have been hesitation, but as soon as one person would answer or give an experience or share a story, everyone else felt free to as well.

I wanted to let people know that mental health is not some sort of topic that can only be talked about when there are very serious issues. It's something we should be more open about in general.

Tim: I actually did not hear about Text, Talk, Act, until the day before the contest; so I’m rushing to plan the week’s episode, which fell on the same day as the contest, so it was like, ok I have 24 hours to implement Text, Talk, Act, with this week’s episode of the show. So we started putting it on Twitter every hour, leading up to the show, you know, text this number, use this code, join us and we are going to go through the platform together.

Krystal: That’s how we were getting people involved in Text, Talk, Act, we put “1 in 4” on a huge chalkboard, and because it was on our huge chalkboard, and it didn’t say anything else besides “1 in 4,” people were coming over and they’re like, “1 in 4 what? 1 in 4 what?” so a few people actually guessed what “1 in 4” was, and we got some pretty hilarious answers what “1 in 4” was, but when we ended up telling them, most of the people were really surprised and taken aback. They’re like, “Twenty-five percent of people have tested with mental illness in their lifetime? No, no way!”

Kayhl: I think people were really surprised to see the data.

Krystal: I think the message, it really is reaching people by saying, “Wow, twenty-five percent! That’s a big number. We need to be talking about this.”

Kayhl: People were really surprised to see the amount of people across the country that struggle with mental health.

Krystal: That really helps draw people in to realize, this is something that anyone could have. It could be your neighbor, it could be your father or your mother, or your best friend. So I think that was a really important message to convey.

Basant: When people learn how prevalent mental health issues are, it does seem like people can be surprised. I’m surprised when people are surprised.

Kayhl: I think those numbers, those statistics, those facts really help them open up about what they were thinking, and feel like they are not one of the only ones struggling with things. I went through four different groups of the Text, Talk, Act program, and each time I saw all of these people that I knew pretty well, talking about all of these people, related to them, that had mental health issues that I didn’t even know about. it was really surprising and comforting to people who feel like they're the only one. I think we are all in this together, it's not crazy and it's not uncommon to have mental health issues; we all have them.

Krystal: I just think that diversity is very important, because you know, mental health and mental illness doesn’t just affect one type of person. It's not just white people. It's people of all races. So diversity is very crucial.

Kayhl : I think the Text, Talk, Act program did a wonderful job of being aware of the different audiences that they were trying to reach and trying to reach as many audiences and as many diverse groups of people as possible.

Krystal: One of the things that I made important on the Facebook page  -- I shared a project -- this photo project, it'sby Dior Vargas, it actually has some people of color talking about mental health. And I thought that was really important because a lot of times when you see mental health, you mostly see white individuals talking about mental health, and I think representation is very important to get people talking about. And I think something like that could help people realize, “Hey, that person looks like me. That person is the same race as me and they’re having issues.”

And I also think that’s why Text, Talk, Act is important, because it doesn’t cater just to one type of person. You can have the conversation of Text, Talk, Act with any person, and it can reach people on very, very deep levels, regardless of race or gender or orientation. and I think that is something that makes it very important and very crucial.

Basant: We’ve gotten really positive feedback that people just feel so enlightened from those conversations. we have independent evaluations done and over ninety percent of respondents say that their understanding has increased about mental health, about how to help each other, and about how prevalent mental health is.

Tim: Tex Talk Act is a platform that starts the conversation that we all should be having.


Sound credits:

Songs: On A Wing, Arboles, Kitten, Trundle; Artist: Podington Bear

February 4, 2016

Sign Up for Email Updates!Wasn't that inspiring? Sign up for more stories like this one

For more than 25 years, Everyday Democracy has worked with communities across the country to foster a healthy and vibrant democracy – one that is characterized by strong relationships across divides...

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.