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SafeUT app saves lives during COVID-19 pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY — The SafeUT smartphone app and mental health system immediately started helping children in crisis when it launched five years ago.

Today, it continues to support teens and young adults, mentally and emotionally, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year 2020 was one of the toughest ever for students from middle school through college.

According to the SafeUT 2021 Annual Report, the smart phone app and mental health system has helped save lives during the pandemic.

“We really see a lot of folks texting in, just with concerns and stress about everything that’s going on around them,” said Denia-Marie Ollerton, SafeUT clinical supervisor, adding that that’s the lasting impact of the app.

Thousands of young Utahns turned to the app for real-time crisis intervention and professional counseling help when the pandemic intensified last year.

People were having much more intense and longer conversations during COVID,” said Ollerton.

Early in the pandemic, usage of the app rose by a 1/3.

Many of the people texting in were thinking about suicide, with conversations focused on fear of the unknown.

They weren’t engaging the app to find COVID testing or vaccination sites; they were looking for mental and emotional support.

“Compared to previous years, we really have had quite an increase in the intensity of the chats,” said Ollerton.

Nearly 300 times last year, somebody got on the app and stated that they had either tried to kill themselves or were thinking about it, and first responders were sent to help.

Tips about specific incidents decreased because there were fewer people in school last year.

“But, the chat feature was highly used,” said Ollerton. “So, that teaches us that people are really looking for somewhere to get immediate emotional support.”

According to the annual report, more than 30,000 tips and chats were submitted to the SafeUT app from July 2020 through June 2021.

Students were connecting with SafeUT because it helped them work through real struggles.

“Especially with having to deal with changes in school — going home and being virtual during COVID, then going back and having to deal with masks or no masks,” said Ollerton.

SafeUT allows students to have a two-way messaging session with a counselor, or submit confidential tips to crisis counselors regarding bullying and threats.

It is staffed by career counselors at Huntsman Mental Health Institute 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“It’s good to know that we’re helping, and we also know that we’re probably not touching as many people as we could, so that’s why we’re wanting to get the word out,” said Ollerton.

According to the report, nearly 90% of all Utah K-12 schools and universities are in enrolled in Safe UT, which includes more than 850,000 students.

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