by Isabela Gamez/UA Don Bolles fellow, Arizona Mirror
March 2, 2023
Arizona state legislators want to give school districts more options in dealing with student mental health issues, and threats to student safety.
Introduced by Rep. Travis Grantham, a Republican from Gilbert, House Bill 2635 would allow school governing boards to purchase threat assessment apps to help them deal with these issues.
Members of the Arizona Teen Mental Health Ad Hoc Committee, composed of teachers, doctors and parents, worked to propose legislation for this app, SafeUT, which has been used in Utah schools for the past nine years.
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In Utah, where 90% of school districts use the app, 295 life-saving interventions have happened as a result of its use, said Katy McPherson, an East Valley resident who’s spent years researching this app.
“Over the last seven years, the East Valley has lost 70 students ages 10-18 from suicide,” McPherson said.
Teens in the U.S. are facing an ongoing mental health crisis with 30% of girls saying they have thought of committing suicide, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our kids don’t have five years for us to wake up as adults and say there’s a problem,” said Joanne Osborne, a former member of the House of Representatives and current Teen Mental Health Committee Chair.
SafeUT is available for free on both Apple and Android devices.
Once downloaded, students, parents and educators have the option to start a chat or call with a licensed counselor, or submit a tip to their schools administrators regarding bullying, mental health, sexual assault or threats.
Students can use the app anonymously but, depending on the severity of the tip received, counselors will coordinate with law enforcement and school administrators to help keep students safe.
“Students are our first responders, they’re in the trenches, they know who is hurting, and they know who is posting threats and plans of violence, they are best positioned to report threats and concerning behaviors of classmates,” McPherson said.
Students can call or chat about themselves or others and receive answers from SafeUT 24 hours a day. SafeUT counselors work with students to problem-solve and provide information about community resources.
The counselors can help students with suicide prevention, relationship difficulties, drug and alcohol problems and other life challenges.
House Bill 2635 received bipartisan support from the House of Representatives Education and Rules committees earlier this month and has moved on to be discussed by the whole House.
The bill does not provide any funding to help districts purchase the apps, but some funding is available from the Arizona Department of Education.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 for help, 24 hours a day. Lifeline also provides support via chat.
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