March 22, 2018, started out as a normal day for Shaylee.
She was doing things around the house until it was time to head to Provo Beach. She picked up her little brother and then headed to meet her boyfriend, Chandler, before driving to the beach.
As Chandler was approaching the car, his phone rang. It was his dad calling him to let him know that Chandler’s cousin, Bryson, had killed himself. Chandler got in the car after hanging up with him and shared the news.
“[I] didn’t really believe it was real,” Shaylee says.
After much contemplation, the three of them agreed to cancel their plans to go surfing. The rest of the day was spent grieving around the house.
Shaylee expresses there weren’t any signs of concern shown by Bryson. Just the day before, they had gone shopping together, and he was the one singing to cheer her up.
SafeUT purpose and perspective
Launched in 2016, the SafeUT app expanded in 2018 to include all public institutions of higher education. The app offers real-time help for a mental health crisis via text or a tip line.
SafeUT provides access to around-the-clock counseling and allows users to submit tips or report violence, threats, or concerns about someone’s well-being. Students, parents, and guardians living in the state of Utah are all welcome to contribute to the app.
Acts of kindness can also be reported via the app.
A main feature of the SafeUT app is the ability to connect to the CrisisLine. The CrisisLine can help resolve a multitude of problems relating to mental health, self-harm, suicidal behavior or other concerns.
“The Board of Regents and I fully support the implementation of the SafeUT app at our higher education institutions, as one tool that can help address some needs. Even if it saves one life, it will be worth it. The results from the implementation in K-12 public education schools the past few years has been impressive,” says Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler. “There are many other ways that higher education institutions are working to assist students and increase student safety.”
According to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the app has been downloaded more than 33,000 times, and 19,000 students have communicated with clinicians. These conversations have covered topics ranging from bullying, suicide and drugs.
The SafeUT app receives over 1,900 chats or tips every month, and 86 school attacks have been prevented since 2016.
Proof of the problem
Funded by the Utah State Legislature, SafeUT is a collaboration between the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition, University Neuropsychiatric Institute, Utah State Office of Education and the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
“Statistics devastatingly show that suicide is the number one cause of death of Utah children ages 10–17. In addition, our schools and communities are facing crisis-level safety concerns,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a release. “Because of such alarming realities statewide, our office has worked closely and in a very bipartisan manner with legislators, agencies, parents, and advocates to find the right solution.”
On average, Utah students wait anywhere from four to eight weeks in order to seek counseling, according to the Utah Student Association. The high demand for counseling services creates a delay for waiting students. Not having insurance that cooperates with these types of services further adds to the challenge.
The SafeUT app has received 235 chats and two verified tips from Salt Lake Community College. These chat threads averaged 25 messages. The verified top topics were regarding mental health and suicide.
Utah is ranked fifth in the nation when considering suicide rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics, Utah’s neighbors in the west have higher than normal suicide rates.
Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming are ranked top ten in the nation for suicide rates. In states with a higher elevation, suicide rates are noticeably higher. Although this information is not consistent throughout the rest of the nation.
According to KSL Newsradio, 53% of college students sought counseling for mental health concerns in 2017, up from 46% in 2010. Those seriously considering a suicide attempt rose from 24% to 34% during that same time period. Those who attempted suicide increased from 8% to 10%.
“There is no easy fix that will prevent all suicides, unfortunately. It is a complex problem. Each college and university president is very concerned about the safety and well-being of our students, as [is] the Utah Board of Regents,” Buhler says.
Since 2012, Utah law now requires training for suicide prevention for school staff. The training is required among all teachers and administrators. Counselors are required to attend this training every three to five years, depending on the renewal of their licenses.
Allowing access to guns has a connection to suicide rates in Utah. Suicide committed with a gun in 2014 was 50% of suicides.
The Utah Foundation recommends limiting access to firearms as a key piece in preventing suicide.
Cable-style gun locks started being given away at no cost in Utah in 2014, even though Utah does not have any laws in place regarding safe storage of a gun. The state’s Safe Harbor law offers gun owners the opportunity to keep their guns with law enforcement if they are having concerns in their household.
Visit the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition to learn more about suicide prevention tips.