Feeling sad? Try a text message.
Researchers from University of California at Berkeley found text messaging improves moods, crediting both sending and receiving messages with helping people out of lonely, stressed moments.
“We are harnessing a technology that people use in their everyday lives to improve mental health in low-income, under-served communities,” explained Andrian Aguilera, one of the social welfare professors working on the project.
Aguilera created a text-based intervention program for low-income Latino patients struggling with depression and mental health disorders. Automated text messages prompted patients to track their moods and think about interactions they experienced during the day, helping them reflect. They also received texts reminding them to take their medications, making patients feel cared for.
Aguilera emphasized how even poor patients generally have access to basic SMS, benefiting people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
The study focused on low-income patients in counseling, but researchers believe the results apply for people of all income levels, regardless of their mental health history. In short, they say texting gives everyone a mood boost.
This study contrasts a rash of research suggesting social media and overuse of technology causes depression and can lower self-esteem. Unlike those studies, which focused on people who use mobile technology and social networks to compare themselves to others, the UC Berkeley texting study focused on person-to-person communication, which may account for the divergent results.
Instead of causing isolation, text messaging can help forge healthy relationships and leave people feeling more connected, even if their communication is limited to simple, short digital notes.
Short texts have impact in other ways beyond everyday mood. Affirmative text messages help smokers kick the habit by offering encouragement, and this study shows quick bursts of communication can also help people struggling with mental health problems, or even simply raise the spirits of someone having a bad day. Perhaps therapists in the future will hold text-only sessions?
The rise of constant communication is creating a world where real-life and online identities blur, as do the lines between work and home. This can stress people out and create problems, but the benefits of access to positive affirmations and mental health professionals should not be overlooked. As this study shows, technology can make a positive impact on emotional well-being.