SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — The people who administer the SafeUT app for students in crisis say the pandemic has worsened the anxiety problem in children.
While the app has seen modest increases in the number of children logging in, the average texting conversation with a counselor is 23% longer than it was before the pandemic.
“They feel more intense. The themes have been very hyper-focused on COVID, on social justice issues, on safety at school,” said Denia-Marie Ollerton, the SafeUT supervisor. “There’s just so many different things in our country, in our state, in our world that are just hitting everyone at the same time.”
Suicidal thoughts shared on the app are up 11% since the pandemic began. But there is good news, too. The app is working.
“They helped me realize how much life is worth living,” said Emma Wheeler, a 15-year-old sophomore at Copper Hills High School.
Wheeler is joining clubs, getting back to cheer and enjoying friends — seven months removed from a suicide attempt. Her journey to a happy, fulfilling life started with SafeUT.
In reality, it all started because I sent a text message saying 'I’m feeling lonely,'" she said. “If I hadn’t done that, there’s no way I’d be alive right now.”
A SafeUT counselor sent paramedics to her home in February, interrupting a suicide attempt and saving her life. Wheeler is seeing a therapist now and doing much better.
“It can really happen to anybody,” said Wheeler’s mother, Tamara.
Tamara Wheeler would advise parents to be persistent about talking to their kids and showing grace.
“Biggest thing is, don’t give up and keep trying,” she said.
But conversations about self-harm are tough to start.
“There’s a popular saying of 'all you need is 20 seconds of courage,'” Ollerton said. “It starts with courage, it starts with getting out of your comfort zone.”
Ollerton says kids would do well with less screen time. Kids and adults should keep news consumption at a healthy level and not be afraid to ask for help.
Instead of being isolated and wanting to kind of shelter in place emotionally, we really need to think about connection,” she said.
On a practical level, this means kids in the Wheeler home spend more time in the living room than their bedrooms, and phones are not allowed in bedrooms at night.
“More family time, more game time, more doing other things — going out with friends instead of online,” Tamara Wheeler said. “Those are more important and more healthy options for her.”
To kids on the fence about SafeUT, Emma Wheeler gives it a ringing endorsement.
“It’s just, like, a safe place for me personally, because you can even find somebody you can connect with on, like, a friendship level,” she said.
The anonymity afforded to users gives Wheeler a sense that she is in control.
Things won’t happen unless you want them to happen,” she said. “That’s how it feels for me.”
If you or someone you know feel hopeless or in crisis, resources are available. Call the national suicide prevention 24-hour lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. A list of area-specific suicide and crisis prevention hotlines in Utah can be found here.
Utahns can also report students they believe to be a danger to themselves or others due to mental health problems, or talk or text with a counselor, through the SafeUT app.
SEE ALSO: Free mental health crisis resources in Utah, other than 911