By Donna Loughlin

Johnny Crowder has more titles than he can count. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s a touring musician. He’s a public speaker who has delivered his own TedX Talk. He’s an author.

He’s also a visionary who figured out how to turn a difficult childhood and history of mental health struggles into a revolutionary way of reaching people in need of support one text message at a time.

Johnny is the founder and CEO of Cope Notes: an SMS-based mental wellness platform that delivers daily text messages to help users essentially train their brains to think better and healthier thoughts.

“At some point, I realized that I could use randomized interruptions in my day to catalyze positive thought,” Johnny told me. “Having something to disrupt my day with something positive was very helpful for me when I was dealing with my anger and depression and anxiety. I started just by writing positive messages to myself on sticky notes and leaving them around the house. But I knew they were there. I wanted to surprise myself with a real disruption. That’s how I got the idea to do it with text messages.”

Johnny’s mental and emotional health issues stem from what he describes as an abusive childhood. From his childhood into his young-adult life, Johnny was in therapy. Over those years, he was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. But all of the treatment and all of the medication still left him feeling empty and angry and filled with anxiety.

He tried everything he could think of to feel better—except fixing himself. Until he finally did. And with Cope Notes, now he’s on a mission to do the same thing for people around the world.

After he got the idea to deliver positive messages via text, he tried it out on his friends. Without warning, he would send out the kinds of messages he felt he himself needed to hear and he was shocked by the response he got.

“Everyone kept saying, ‘How did you know? How did you know what I was going through? How did you know I needed to hear that?’” he says. “So I figured this could be something that a lot of people could benefit from. So I started to figure out how I could automate it.”

Today, Cope Notes has more than 20,000 subscribers in nearly 100 countries who receive daily text messages that combine peer support and positive psychology to encourage better mental and emotional health. Every message is composed by someone with real-world experience dealing with trauma or mental illness and each is reviewed by certified mental health professionals before sending.

The messages themselves take all sorts of forms. One might be a journaling prompt. Another could be a tip on how to improve your mood or handle adversity.

“Whatever it is that’s in the text, it’s going to be short and easy to understand and to the point,” he says. “And then we deliver them at random times. So no two people ever get the same text at the same time. You never know when we’re going to text you or what it will say, but over time, these interruptions to your day will interrupt negative thought patterns and train your brain to think in healthier patterns.”

Johnny says he hopes Cope Notes users will come away with motivation to seek help and address their mental and emotional health. He believes too many people are afraid to seek treatment because it makes them seem weak. Cope Notes is trying to lower that barrier.

“One of the main reasons why people fall behind and stay behind is because they think, ‘If I reach my hand out for help, what does that say about me?’” he says. “And what we try to say is it says you are strong and intelligent and brave, and you’re taking action. You’re strong.”

To listen and subscribe to the Before IT Happened podcast, visit www.beforeithappened.com.