May 12, 2023 - Business

Tampa startup Cope Notes is the text big thing in mental health

Illustration of an app-like brain with an alarm icon on it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Starting to take care of your mental health can be intimidating. But a Tampa CEO says it's as easy as opening a text message.

What's happening: Johnny Crowder is CEO of Cope Notes, a startup that sends daily guidance via texts to help people take small, positive steps toward improving their mental health.

  • He isn't the only one who sees the service's potential. A recently published study from University of South Florida researchers shows promise for the effectiveness of the app.

Why it matters: In a wellness industry saturated with apps and tech products, Kristin Kosyluk, a mental health law professor at USF and the study's lead researcher, told Axios "people should be looking for evidence-based interventions, not just throwing interventions at people and hoping they work."

  • And Cope Notes "could be a gateway for people who aren't ready to use mental health services but could benefit from them," Kosyluk found.

How it works: Texts are sent to users at random times every day with exercises, tips and prompts.

  • Users can also respond to use the text thread as a journal or way to vent, and responses are kept anonymous and confidential.

Between the lines: The study found that participants with severe depression experienced a significant decrease in anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as perceived stress, after getting Cope Notes for a month. They also showed a significant increase in emotional intelligence.

  • Participants with mild to moderate depression experienced a significant increase in overall coping and problem-focused coping.
  • Kosyluk said most users loved how hands-off Cope Notes is compared to having to go to a counselor or think about using an app.

What they're saying: Kosyluk noted that as a "low-intensity intervention," Cope Notes doesn't require a lot of clinical resources to be effective and can help overcome stigma around seeking mental health care.

Yes, but: The study's final sample was limited to 64 mostly white women, most of whom were USF students. Kosyluk says this is just the start of gathering data on Cope Notes and she hopes to test its effectiveness on more diverse groups.

What's ahead: Individual Cope Notes subscriptions can be purchased, but the company is looking into working with institutions that want to add it as a benefit for workers or students.

  • Cope Notes partnered with Hardee County Schools this year to offer the service for free to students over the age of 12, along with staff and educators.

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