The Herald Journal: App allows students to connect to crisis counselors

by Sean Dolan, staff writer

Two Cache County high schools are recommending a smartphone app that allows students to easily contact licensed social workers or submit a confidential tip about a peer who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

Last September, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes unveiled the app, called SafeUT, citing statistics that show suicide is the leading cause of death of Utah children aged 10 to 17. Utah also leads the nation in the teen suicide rate.

“Those in crisis can now access live trained professionals at any time the way they are used to communicating, through a smart app on their phones,” Reyes stated.

The anonymous app allows students to call or text directly with trained professionals at the University of Utah if they are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. If a student has a concern about someone else, they can submit a tip with options to include the person involved, the date, time, location and an option to add a picture. The categories available in a drop­down menu include abuse, cutting, cyberbullying, drugs, gangs, planned school attack, suicide and weapons.

Anyone can download and use the app, but schools that have enrolled in the program will have anonymous tips forwarded to school counselors.

Ridgeline and Mountain Crest high schools introduced the app to students Jan. 9 at the end of an anti­pornography assembly. The app will be rolled out to other Cache County schools later in the school year.

Jennifer Loscher, school counselor at Ridgeline High, said she likes having a tool that connects students to trained social workers and therapists. She said most crisis lines use volunteers who don’t know what signs to look for, what questions to ask or how to asses a threat level.

“It’s a pretty significant difference,” Loscher said.

The crisis and tip lines are available 24/7, while school counselors usually aren’t available outside of school hours.

“If a student needs to call and talk about being suicidal at two in the morning, which is when that usually happens, then they can call or text and talk with someone right then,” Loscher said.

In the app’s first month at Ridgeline High, Loscher said they have received about eight tips, with two or three related to suicide.

“Some of those are very benign, but some are pretty serious,” Loscher said. Tim Smith, Cache County School District public information officer, said the district previously used a program called anonymoustips.com, but the SafeUT app adds a new element of connecting students with counselors at UofU. He said having an anonymous tool is beneficial.

“I think the anonymous part plays into that kind of psychology (that) kids are going to be more willing to report some issues if they know they don’t have to be identified,” Smith said.

In the Logan City School District, Superintendent Frank Schofield said he has had conversations with some counseling staff about the app, but it has not been implemented.

“It’s a great tool; it just gives kids a chance to — when they are feeling stressed — it gives them a chance to respond,” Schofield said.

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