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Health, Science & Environment

Data From SafeUT App Found The Pandemic Created More Need — And Awareness — For Mental Health Support

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Usage on the SafeUT mental health app grew by 38% in 2021 compared to the previous year.

If there’s one positive thing to come out of the pandemic, Rachel Lucynski said it might be the increased awareness and acceptance of mental health support. She manages support Services for the Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

That was one of the key takeaways from the 2020-21 SafeUT annual report, which detailed the data collected by the free smartphone app available to students, parents, teachers and, most recently, frontline safety workers for mental health support and crisis intervention.

“I think everyone knows someone who's directly impacted by the pandemic,” Lucynksi said. “Financial stresses and concerns or seeing parents potentially lose jobs has all been overwhelming. And so I think people recognized for the first time, I'm not the only one going through this and it's OK and it's brave to reach out for help.”

The number of people who used the mental health app between July 2020 and June 2021 grew by 38% compared to the previous year, Lucynski said. There were over 30,000 chats and tips submitted, with 21% of tips related to suicide — by far the highest of any category.

Lucynski said most chats initiated on the app are related to anxiety and depression, but 298 “life-saving” interventions” were conducted as a result of people reaching out with thoughts of suicide. When that happens, she said mental health counselors will try to help people realize there is hope and send emergency medical services to intervene.

“Those moments of crisis, those moments of thinking I'm going to end my life are actually a matter of seconds or maybe minutes,” she said. “So if folks can get connected with our services, we're usually very successful at working with people to get them the care that they need.”

An analysis of location data found more calls came from areas where there were higher rates of COVID-19, further highlighting the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health.

The report also found more people used the app in areas with higher rates of poverty. But people in neighborhoods with a greater non-white population were less likely to use the app, perhaps because they are less culturally disposed to ask for help or had less support and outreach through their schools.

Going forward, Lucynski said there will be more focus on raising awareness around mental health resources and preventing incidents from rising to crisis levels, which has been a persistent challenge. She said it’s important to not just help people recognize the signs of anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation, but what to do when they see them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit safeUT.org or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Utah Crisis Line at 801-587-3000 or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

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