More people are seeking help from mental health experts as they deal with issues related to COVID-19.

Racheal O'Dea, director of The Mental Health Association in New Jersey of Ocean County, said the anxiety and the nature of the pandemic are prompting people to seek help. She said many people are feeling concerns of isolation and loneliness, and having symptoms of lack of sleep and unhealthy eating.

The association has launched a free texting service to address these issues. Individuals can text "NJ HOPE" to 51684 seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Texts received during off-hours will be answered the following day.

Participants will be linked with ongoing emotional support through text messaging, as well as the opportunity to connect with crisis counselors, O'Dea said.

Once a person sends a text, he or she will be prompted with a welcome message and an enrollment form to fill out. O'Dea said the participant will offered a chance to connect with a crisis counselor or to get a call back for a higher level of care.

Automated text messages, three to five times a week. will offer helpful reminders and motivation. Participants can text back to exchange messages with trained specialists.

Photo Credit: The Mental Health Association in New Jersey

O'Dea said the service can be helpful to people who don't feel comfortable talking to experts about their problems face-to-face or on the phone.

O'Dea some examples of automated messages include, "an expression of gratitude is a shared treasure," "watch a good movie or read a book," and "we seek progress, not perfection."

If a person texts a key word, it can trigger an inspirational message. So O'Dea said if someone texts the word, "song," he or she can get an inspirational song from YouTube sent via text. If someone texts the word "wash," the service will send a song of at least 35 seconds that tells them how long to wash their hands to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

O'Dea said the free texting service has been up for more than a week and the response has been great. She has seen an increase in service throughout the state.

The texting service is available to anyone 14 years old and up. The program is made possible through NJ Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program, and The Mental Health Association in New Jersey in collaboration with New Jersey Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

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