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Canyons School District Pilots Suicide Prevention App

May 05, 2016 01:22PM ● Published by Kelly Cannon

By Kelly Cannon | kelly@mycityjournals.com

Draper - The Utah State Office of Education has launched a new platform in the hopes of saving teens from taking their own lives. In partnership with the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Utah, the state office has launched a smartphone app called SafeUT, an app that connects students in crisis to professionals. The Canyons School District was the pilot program and has released the app to all of its secondary schools. 

“Students can go and download the app for free. Their schools are listed and they can either give a tip or if they’re in crisis, they can call or text a counselor,” Tamra Baker, the director of student support services at the Canyons School District, said. “That’s the power of the app. They get an immediate response from a counselor at the university.”

Baker explained that’s the difference between the app and other suicide hotlines. Instead of talking to a volunteer, the students are connected to trained counselors at the University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah Health Care. 

If a student or someone the student knows is in immediate crisis, they can contact a counselor and receive help. This can be either through calls or texts. Baker said the texting component is critical for talking to students. 

“That’s the world the teens live in,” Baker said. “They might be more hesitant to call.”

The other feature of the app is a tip line. 

“It can be for a crime involving students, bullying, drug use, any at-risk behaviors. The tips are screened by the counselors. If it’s deemed to be a student in crisis reaching out, they contact the student,” Baker said. “If the tip is not a crisis, they are forwarded to the selected adult chosen to deal with the tips. That can be an administrator or a counselor. They follow up on the tips.”

As of the end of March, all five high schools and eight middle schools in the Canyons School District are live with the app. The district hopes to have the program up and running in all of the secondary schools across the state by the end of the school year. Baker said the district has been really impressed with the different ways the schools have implemented the program. 

“The kids have been really respectful of the app,” Baker said. “We didn’t have any kids just testing it out to see if it works.”

While the app has been successful, Baker stressed this isn’t the only tool the schools and the district are relying upon to help prevent teen suicide.

“We have really caring adults and we hope you [the teens] have at least one caring relationship with an adult. But sometimes, you’re not there or they’re not there and you don’t have access to them,” Baker said. “We don’t see this as the only tool. There are lots of programs in the schools. This one of the many things we’re doing to help keep students safe.”

Other programs include a lifelines curriculum that is taught in health classes, which address mental health concerns. Another program called Prepare is for administrators and focuses not only on prevention but also trains them to give support to their schools, the parents and the students in times of crisis. 

“It really takes a community to save lives,” Baker said. 

According to the Utah Department of Health, in 2013, suicide surpassed unintentional injuries to become the leading cause of death among youth ages 10-19 in Utah. On average, 37 youth in Utah die from suicide and 942 are injured in a suicide attempt each year.

In 2013, 14.1 percent of students in grades 8, 10 and 12 reported that during the past year they had seriously considered suicide.

Every day in Utah, two youths, ages 10 to 17 years old, and two young adults, ages 18 to 24 years old, are treated for suicide attempts.   λ

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