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Reach out and text someone - it may do some good

Texting has been blamed for everything from destroying the English language to wounding teens with " texting tendinitis."

But texting may not be the social menace it seems.

In fact, a simple "uok?" can make someone's day, especially if they're suffering from loneliness or depression, according to research from the University of California, Berkeley.

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In an outreach project aimed at low-income Latinos with mental health problems, clinical psychologist Adrian Aguilera found that even automated text messages had a mood-boosting effect.

In 2010, Dr. Aguilera developed a texting program designed for patients in his cognitive behaviour therapy group. The automated messages prompted patients to think about how they were feeling at that moment, reply and hit "send."

Dr. Aguilera said his patients reported feeling more "connected" when they received the messages, which also included reminders to take their meds.

One of his patients described receiving an auto-text during a difficult situation: "I felt cared for and supported. My mood even improved."

Although the texting project was supposed to wrap up after several weeks, about 75 per cent of patients asked to continue receiving the messages.

Mr. Aguilera said the project highlights the value of check-ins with therapists – if only through automated technology – and building on skills covered in therapy sessions.

The project's success may be due in part to his target population. According to a 2011 study by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, African-American and Latino cellphone owners send and receive more text messages than Caucasians do.

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But that doesn't mean the benefits of texting don't apply to all. More research is needed, of course, but the next time your teen is texting like crazy, you could tell yourself he's taking care of his psychological health.

Does texting make you feel closer to others?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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