SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers and educators hope a new technology resource will help curb what they say is the most frequent cause of death for Utah adolescents: suicide.
It comes in the form of a smartphone app unveiled Wednesday that allows Utah students to get personal help or report other safety concerns with the touch of a button.
"No kid is going to Google 'suicide hotline number' when they're in the darkest moments of their lives," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. "But if the app is already on their phone, and all they have to do is take out their phone and push one button, I think we'll reach these kids."
After piloting a crisis phone line program in 2014, the Legislature voted last year to expand the program and implement a smartphone app through the Utah Attorney General's Office, University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute and Utah State Office of Education.
The SafeUT app is now available for iPhone and Android devices, connecting students anonymously to a licensed counselor at the university at any hour of any day.
But the resource goes beyond suicide prevention. Students can use the app to call, chat or submit a tip about bullying, threats, violence, gang activity, sexual harassment, drug activity, cheating and other issues. Students can also make their tips school-specific, allowing the institute to inform school counselors and resource officers if there's a problem.
"This is a very hopeful day in our state," Attorney General Sean Reyes said. "We're both excited and hopeful that such a resource will truly provide a lifeline to students who feel that they have nowhere else to turn."
Program administrators with the Utah State Office of Education will provide optional training through online and in-person meetings with school administrators, who will then train teachers and students how to use the app.
Students who don't have access to a smartphone can access the same services through state's crisis hotline, 800-273-8255.
Lillian Tsosie-Jensen, a comprehensive school counseling program specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, said it may take some time before school-specific resources are available in some areas while the training takes place. But students can still call the crisis hotline in the meantime.
"I can see where we would have everyone up and running statewide by the end of the school year," Tsosie-Jensen said. "This provides that layer of support that they need to perform well in school."
Barry Rose, manager of crisis services at the university institute, said the new resource is unique from those in other states because it connects students with local experts who can triage each tip to address it most appropriately.
"We feel like students and parents, particularly, will be comforted by the fact that their students will be talking with licensed professionals," Rose said. "This app allows us to talk with students in real time. They get an immediate response from a professional counselor, and it's an extremely powerful tool.
"We're really excited to get this started."