SafeUT, a free app providing support for students in mental health crises, recently announced new expanded services shortly after its recent inclusion of members of the National Guard and frontline health workers.
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SafeUT is a two-way communication crisis line — via text or call — for those struggling with issues of mental health and suicidal ideation. Students can reach out on their own or can provide a tip for a student of concern.
The app was created in 2015 to address the youth suicide problem in Utah. From 2011 through 2015, Utah saw a 141% increase in suicides among youth ages 10-17 compared to the 23.5% increase nationally.
The program was started after the passage of SB 175, which required the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (now known as the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, or HMHI) at the University of Utah to establish a school safety and crisis line. SafeUT is governed by the SafeUT Commission out of the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
SafeUT created SafeUTNG in Dec. 2019 to support the Utah Army National Guard due to high situational stress and SafeUT Frontline in Dec. 2020 for frontline health care workers struggling with assisting high influxes of COVID-19 patients. Rachel Lucynski, business operations manager of HMHI Crisis Services, said professions also have stigma around seeking mental or behavioral health help due to the nature of their caregiving role.
Lucynski said funding for these programs is continually allocated each year in the state budget. She said there have been ongoing expansions and investments from the state since its passage.
Lucynski said SafeUT is effective in saving lives. In this past fiscal year (July 2020-June 2021), utilization of the app leading to “life-saving interventions” went up 57% than the year previous. In that same period, more than 600 student lives were saved as a result of the app’s interventions.
“It’s always sad to see how many folks need our services, but it is really incredible to see the life-saving impact that we are able to have.”
Lucynski said SafeUTNG and SafeUT Frontline have also seen early success. SafeUTNG continues to receive praise for its effectiveness with over 1,000 app downloads. Robert Spencer, suicide prevention program manager for the Utah Army National Guard said:
“What SafeUTNG has done is provide a simple pipeline for service and family members to anonymously reach out and get needed help for themselves or someone else.”
Brig. Gen. Michael J. Turley, adjutant general for the Utah Army National Guard, also praised the service.
“I strongly recommend each and every Service Member download the SafeUTNG app, whether they feel they are in a crisis or not. I have full faith and confidence in the behavioral health providers working behind the scenes at the [Huntsman Mental Health Institute] to make this app possible. We’ve seen firsthand how it can save lives.”
The workforce for the HMHI crisis team — which answers the SafeUT calls — consists of licensed/credentialed mental health professionals. Lucynski said staff continually receive culture and competency trainings to be on top of the changing culture and struggle involved with the demographic they are serving.
With a health care workforce shortage taking over Utah, SafeUT has a workforce management team designed to monitor utilization of employees that align with the volumes of app usage coming in. SafeUT also cross-trains staff from other HMHI positions to aid SafeUT in moments where different programs are in high demand. Lucynski said:
“We are certainly doing the best we can. There are other times when you can’t always predict when and where people will be in crisis. So we have some real time ways that we can adjust to meet those influxes.”
Lucynski hopes to expand SafeUT to all Utahns in the future to lower the rate of all adult suicide deaths.