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Analysts: Mental health calls to Safe UT app ‘more intense’ since pandemic

(Photo used in the Safe UT 2020-2021 Annual Report.)

SALT LAKE CITY — More Utahns used the Safe UT app during the pandemic to reach out for mental health services. State health analysts said they’ve received over six thousand tips just within the last 12 months. 

The Safe UT app creators said they launched it in 2016 as a response to the high number of suicides among Utah’s youth.  Since that time, the app has been used by people needing mental health and suicide prevention services, as well as those reporting possible school threats.

Related: The SafeUT app gets a new look

However, Clinical Supervisor Dénia-Marie Ollerton said something changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“During the start of the pandemic, we really noticed an increase in the intensity of the chats that were coming in,” Ollerton said. And said that the conversations lasted a lot longer than before.

Safe UT app used for suicide prevention more often

From the beginning of July 2020 to the end of June 2021, 298 people used the app while they were thinking about or were actively trying to take their own lives.  During that time, the app received over 6,200 tips on topics like suicidal thoughts, bullying, depression, cutting, cyber-bullying, and harassment. 

Ollerton said they also received 256 tips about possible school threats. Which she believes is a good thing.

To us, that shows a really healthy culture in the schools of that ‘see something, say something’ mentality.”

Related: More school resources this year for students’ mental and emotional health

According to Ollerton, the app creators wanted to know more about who was frequently using the app and why.  She said they looked over all the data and found people living in transitional or short-term housing used the app less frequently, as did people living in mostly non-white communities. 

However, they noticed usage was different in certain disadvantaged areas, especially where COVID-19 infection rates were high.

“We found that, during COVID, folks in lower-income areas were using the app more,” Ollerton said.

Misconceptions about the app

Ollerton said many people have a misconception about what the app actually is.  Many people think of it as a resource for K-12 kids and their families. They also have platforms for members of the Utah National Guard, their families, and civilian partners.  That platform launched in 2019.

“The ‘Frontline’ app just started December of 2020 to address the needs of our frontline workers.  So, that would be healthcare providers, fire, EMS, and law enforcement.”

Use the Safe UT app if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or depression. Or, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).