TAMPA, Fla. — What if one single text message could help provide comfort for a person dealing with mental health issues?

Sending a text message to a loved one or friend is a simple way to let them know you're thinking about them and that you care, especially if they didn't know that's what they needed.

Cope Notes, a Tampa-based company, combines psychology and "lived experience" to send personalized text messages to every single one of its users. 

"Probably the number one thing that kept me from actually looking into getting help for my mental health issues -- I didn't want people to label me or have this image of what they thought I would look like or act like," Johnny Crowder, founder of Cope Notes, said. 

Background in Mental Health

Crowder comes from a background of dealing with mental health issues and can tell users from personal experience how challenging it can be, not just for the person, but for his or her loved ones as well.

"I had OCD and it was pretty intrusive, so I didn't touch a human for years," Crowder said. "I didn't touch hands or doorknobs, or any of my food."

He said he was experiencing many very pronounced bipolar symptoms.

"I knew I was feeling different, but I sort of kept sweeping everything under the rug and wanting things to disappear, or wanting to blend in with everyone else. And unfortunately, neither of those things happened."

Crowder went on to study psychology. He used his experience over the years with peer counseling through the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create a company that could provide support for others going through their own mental health struggles. 

In October 2017, he sent a single, unsolicited text message to some members of his friend group, along with a positive and uplifting message to see how they would respond. 

"Everyone responded differently, but a common thread was, how did you know I needed that?" Crowder said. "When I spoke to them about it afterward, I was like that was your brain that did that. And they felt so empowered that it wasn't me doing research and looking stuff up about what was going on in their life, it was their brain that applied it." 

Crowder turned that concept into a company.

On March 1, 2018, the company sent its first text message to a subscriber. Cope Notes has since sent text messages to 15 different countries in the last two months. 

"It took a really long time to get that international piece figured out, and once we finally enabled it, it was crazy," Crowder added. "People from South Africa and Chile and Argentina using this."

Related: 'Stop the Stigma': An unfiltered look at mental illness

How does it work?

Cope Notes functions as a mental resource via the cellphone in your pocket. People can either sign up for the service themselves or for other people who are struggling.

"I really wanted to make sure there was an option for people to give a subscription to a friend or family member," Crowder said. "Because I remember times in my life when I was really struggling, and my friends and family had no idea what to do."

Crowder says Cope Notes doesn't ask for any personal information, just a number to text. Users are given the option to try a test period for free or sign someone else up with a gift subscription. Users can decide from there if they would like to continue to receive texts through the service by signing up for an account. 

If the user decides to sign up for the subscription, personalized content is created for each user.

"When you receive a text, no one else in the world is receiving that text on that day at that time," Crowder said. "It feels intentional when you're the only person in the world to get that text at that time, and that really, really, lets your brain go, ok, we gotta apply this. Cuz this wasn't an accident." 

Related: Questions about mental health? Resources connect you to need-to-know information

The strategy

Crowder says one of the things that makes Cope Notes so successful is that the service is 'understanding' and relatable.

"So I've tried a lot of mental health resources and unfortunately, many of them feel very alienating from the user experience," Crowder said. "So some are very stiff and scientific, and they make you feel like a project. And then a lot of them are very fluffy and baseless. None of them really acknowledged and validated that sometimes things are very difficult."

Cope Notes puts the user in power of their own brain to use the messages and apply them, instead.

He has started promoting the business not just through word of mouth, but also through the band he tours with. He's also received requests for mental health services from schools and company human resource departments.

"It was exciting to know that we could eventually start partnering with the larger institutions that really set the precedent for acknowledging and prioritizing mental and emotional health," Crowder said.

Cope Notes subscribers are of a wide range of ages and life experiences.

"We've had subscribers who sent us an email saying I'm 90 years old, or I signed up my 11-year-old son," Crowder said. "We approach this whole subject with this relatable, we know how you feel, yes, today was brutal, but tomorrow might not be. And I don't think other tools have that same sense of understanding." 

Crowder hopes to not just help his users, but start to destroy the negative stigma behind mental health. 

"I want to be able to go into a classroom and say I felt really depressed this weekend, the same way you can say I sprained my ankle over the weekend," Crowder added. "There have been people who have emailed me saying you know, I'm going to college because of this, or I'm getting out of an abusive relationship because of this, or I'm checking myself into rehab because of this." 

"All over texts that are just 160 characters."

Stop the Stigma: Anika Morton, now in therapy, copes with anxiety and depression

RELATED: Considering suicide or know someone who is? There is help

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