Saskatchewan officially reopened on July 11, and two services have joined forces to help residents deal with what comes afterwards.
SaskWell and 211 Saskatchewan have combined their resources to help Saskatchewan residents deal with stress, anxiety and uncertainty they may experience witth the province’s reopening.
The two organizations plan to offer a wholistic approach to conquering mental health issues residents may face, no matter the degree of intensity.
“We saw an opportunity to align with another partner that was about helping people connect to services—and not just to connect our services, right, but to connect through a trusted facilitator,” said Dr. Tracie Risling, the USask project lead for SaskWell. “211 does a great job of vetting services together with that great Saskatchewan focus, and SaskWell is based on evidence informed research on health and wellness.
“We are run by nurses and patient partners, and so we feel like we have a great, really well vetted, trusted platform for people to access resources through.”
Risling said the reopening transition hasn’t been an easy one for some people, and a variety of factors are to blame. The current COVID-19 case count, the news of the Delta Variant, or just the shock factor of going over a year with social distancing to virtually back to normal overnight, has many residents experiencing discomfort with this sudden change of lifestyle.
“We really have seen our numbers come up in the last few weeks,” Risling said. “Research-wise we would love more folks to sign up and join us to be SaskWell.”
SaskWell is a free two-way texting wellness service developed to support Saskatchewan residents during and beyond COVID-19 by providing them with mental health and wellness resources. Risling explained that the pandemic has shown the value of digital health tools across the spectrum from mental health to virtual care.
The SaskWell research team at USask promotes ideas that are user-centred. Risling said not all tech is developed that way, but for SaskWell, it was a priority.
“I think it is really important when we are talking about mental health to demonstrate the opportunity to partner with patients and practitioners and to really think about code design of digital tools,” she explained.
SaskWell has completed their first 10 week trial and found guidance that will help them expand on what they learned in the second part.
“We have seen quite a few changes between the first round and this round,” Risling said. “This project is demonstrating two things: one that texting is a good way to try and deliver resources to folks and two that it is worthwhile to engage with patients or others in codifying of digital health.”
SaskWell is a partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. The CAMH just recently released an updated survey showing that a third of Canadians have moderated to severe anxiety about returning to their pre-pandemic reoutines. Other patient advisory groups have also seen data and anecdotal data that people are anxious about reopening.
“We said, ‘well, okay, we need wellness messages that are about social anxiety, wellness messages about having hard conversations, maybe (messages) of conflict resolution,’ because of course there are still a lot of opinions about what is the best kind of path, (and) all of these things related to the COVID experience,” Risling said.
Although the service was originally designed to offer general mental health and wellness support; SaskWell has added social anxiety tips to help residents through this latest transition. Users can sign up by texting JOIN to 759355, calling 1-855-237-5934 or signing up online at besaskwell.memotext.com.
She explained that the second 10 week run of SaskWell will focus on wellness messaging around anxiety related to the reopening.
“(It’s) still the same connections to those same really good digital mental health tools, but those extra wellness messages are really focused on social anxiety and different tools to manage conflict, and we are still doing polling about vaccinations or stress or other things,” Risling said.
The next 10 week cycle is expected to start around the time where school returns in September. It will last into the winter.
Then, Risling said, they’ll start to get into a different kind of stress: the stress of routine.
“We will be able to adapt the wellness again to supporting people when we have to go back to these much more structured routines,” she explained. “Especially if your fall transition is going to mean you are no longer working from home, for example.”
211 Saskatchewan is a free and confidential service, accessible through online (sk.211.ca), phoning 2-1-1 or texting 211, which links people within Saskatchewan with community services in their area. It’s offered through social programs, communities, non-clinical health care or government programs.
Risling said 211 became a partner through testing the connectivity of social media.
“We are really thoughtful about who we reached out to connect and tag through social media, and 211 was really one of those,” Risling said.
“We really admired the similarities between our approaches, which is giving people one point of connection to a whole host of other digital tools or resources. We saw those similarities between ourselves and we thought it would be a really great partnership,”
Risling said that a few weeks ago the two groups had a chance to learn more about each other.
“We realized it was a really great fit and an ideal partnership. And we are just so pleased to just be able to continue to remind folks in Saskatchewan about the importance of our mental health and wellness.”
With a centralized database of all available resources, 211 Saskatchewan makes it so residents are one search, call, or text away from finding the help they need. 211 Saskatchewan is a service of United Way Regina and United Way Saskatoon and Area.
Users who are looking for mental health supports through the 211 website will now be directed to SaskWell as a possible resource for supporting their mental wellness.
As well, if users of SaskWell are struggling with more than just reopening anxiety or need additional support, SaskWell offers 211 Saskatchewan as a resource for users to seek help through.
There, users can quickly and easily find a wide range of helpful resources in their area. Together, this texting service and 211 Saskatchewan are committed to helping all residents of Saskatchewan get the support they need during these fast-changing times.
“It’s okay to feel anxious even if it is more a positive kind of point in the pandemic experience,” Risling said. “People just need to know that whatever you are feeling, that’s okay. There is support and tools and resources there for you, and maybe it’s us. Maybe SaskWell is a tool that works for you and if not, now working together with 211 they have a whole host of other resources and tools that you may need as well.”