Alberta Health Services unveils program that will send supportive text messages

If you sign up you will begin receiving supportive text messages once a day. The service picks your daily message from a selection of 400 pre-written sentiments and sends it your way.​

"You're good enough. You're smart enough. And doggone it, people like you"

The intro to a Stuart Smalley sketch on Saturday Night Live. (Youtube Screenshot)

In 1991, Al Franken debuted Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live. 

The character, typically dressed in pastel-coloured clothes, would gaze longingly at himself in the mirror and deliver his daily affirmations. 

"I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me," Smalley would say. 

Franken, now a sitting US senator, played the popular character for laughs during his run on SNL, but the idea of daily affirmations has a serious purpose for helping people who struggle with depression. 

This week, Text4Mood was launched by Dr. Vincent Agyapong, a psychiatrist in Fort McMurray, in partnership with Alberta Health Services. The program puts a rather modern-day spin on Smalley's daily affirmations. 

If you text the word mood to 760-670-3130, you will begin receiving supportive text messages once a day. "I deserve to feel good," some say, others, "My past doesn't control my future."  

The service picks your daily message from a selection of 400 pre-written sentiments and sends it your way.​

"One of the biggest benefits of this program is that the support is immediate and can act as an intervention while a patient is, for example, between appointments or receiving other care," said Agyapong.

One of the 400 pre written supportive text messages that you can receive from AHS. (CBC)

Debra Samek, the director for addiction and mental health for AHS North Zone, helped roll out the program. She says the program is intended for people who are suffering from mental illness. It is meant as something that will supplement current treatment, not replace it, but anyone can use it. 

"Really anybody can benefit from supportive text messages or an uplifting message during the day," said Samek.  "We've targeted people suffering from depression, but it can be beneficial to anybody."

The program isn't something unique to Alberta. Agyapong used to practice in Ireland where a similar service was available. He felt it would be well utilized in Alberta. 

Candace Hawco, one of Agyapong's patients, has suffered from depression for 22 years and readily accepted her doctors offer to take part in the trial period. 

"I love it," says Hawco in a press release. "There are days where I feel low, my phone dings and, when I look, it'll be a positive message. I look forward to receiving them. They're encouraging, motivating and help me keep going."

The program rolled out at a rather opportune time. It's no secret the Albertan economy is hurting, and that pain has been made real in the lives of many Albertans in the forms of layoffs and uncertainty about their future.

Agyapong started his research well before the downturn, but those working on the project acknowledge that it came out at a good time for the province.

"Certainly it could help people who are experiencing the effects of the downturn for sure," said Samek.

Twenty-one years have passed since Stuart Smalley was regular character on SNL.

All these years later, it's not to hard to imagine that Smalley, wearing his pastel clothing and sitting in his kitschy studio, would be reading his affirmations not from a mirror but a cell phone.