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UBC students Ian Wong and Amanda Feng on campus in Vancouver, on March 12, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The organizers: Amanda Feng and Ian Wong

The pitch: Creating the Colour Project

The cause: To support people struggling with mental health

When Ian Wong went through a bout of depression a few years ago he talked to his partner, Amanda Feng, about programs that could help.

“We were very lucky to be able to speak with our loved ones and get support, but not everyone can,” Ms. Feng, 31, recalled from the couple’s home in Vancouver. “This idea came up to create something that people who couldn’t talk to their family or friends could use.”

That led to the creation of the Colour Project, a free service that provides anonymous, one-to-one support through text messages to people struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. They picked the name because when Mr. Wong, 31, was coping with depression his entire world seemed grey. The name “is way of bringing colour back into the lives of those who may need it,” Ms. Feng said.

Anyone can sign up on the project’s website and they only have to provide a cellphone number. The service will match them with one of 26 trained volunteers. “You can chat as often as you like and the volunteer will check in from time to time,” Ms. Feng said. “If you want to stop, you just text ‘stop chat.’ ”

The project launched in January at the University of British Columbia where both Mr. Wong and Ms. Feng are students – he’s in dentistry and she’s studying medicine – and it has expanded beyond the campus. So far around 100 people have signed up and exchanged more than 10,000 text messages with volunteers. Ms. Feng said the messages are kept private and once the chat has stopped the exchanges are deleted within a year. “We stress with all of our volunteers that we cannot give any advice or provide crisis intervention.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services and Ms. Feng and Mr. Wong hope to grow the project further. They’ve already received a number of referrals. “That means a lot and makes it worth it,” Ms. Feng said.