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Why the SafeUT Frontline App is a Critical Resource for our First Responders

A car accident. A fire. An emergency that requires stitches. When any of these things happens, we go to a frontline worker whose job is to make our day better. We turn to them when we're feeling our worst or at our lowest point and hope we don't have to call them for help on ordinary days. While it's hard on us when bad things happen, it also takes a toll on frontline workers, who see many people's bad days every day.

“We don't get invited to someone's house saying, ‘Hey, I'm having a great day, come visit with me,” says Sam Winkler, Master Officer at West Jordan Police Department.

Retired firefighter Scott Pickle adds, “People are calling us on their worst day for us to come perform our best.”

Mental health challenges do not discriminate—anyone can be affected, just like a physical illness. But because of the type of work frontline responders do, extra support may be needed. That's why SafeUT Frontline was created.

The SafeUT Frontline app evolved out of the success of the SafeUT app, which was created through bipartisan legislation in response to Utah's unacceptably high youth suicide rate, the leading cause of death for young people aged 10-24. With the increasing demand and pressure on Utah's frontline workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SafeUT Commission recognized the need for quick and easy access to crisis support and mental health services for Utah's law enforcement, fire/EMS, health care providers, and their families. The commission is chaired by the Utah Attorney General's Office with representation from statewide partners in public and higher education, behavioral health, law enforcement, elected officials, and members of the general public.

“It's interesting to see the cycle of our community,” says Dénia-Marie Ollerton, LCMHC, SafeUT Clinical Supervisor at Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI). “We're talking about teens and frontline workers and how there seems to be recurring themes of ‘we don't want to share what's going on' for various reasons.”

The distinguishing feature from SafeUT is the removal of the tip functionality on the app. For frontline workers, barriers to treatment tend to involve questions about the confidentiality in service provision. Instead, SafeUT Frontline focuses on the confidential chat option to text with HMHI crisis counselors 24/7 at no cost.

"I think a lot of us don't really feel like we're in a crisis. There are just these fleeting moments of, ‘I can't handle this anymore.' That's what I like about this app—it's meant to be for that immediate moment."

Crystal Armstrong, MD, board-certified family medicine physician at University of Utah Health

The HMHI counselors who answer every chat initiated through the app complete extensive cultural sensitivity training to understand the unique situations experienced daily by frontline workers and their families.

“These people are saying they care about [frontline workers],” Winkler says. "[Having the app available] is them saying we love you, we care about you, and we want you to be better.”

Winkler acknowledges the stigma of mental health, especially within the first responders' community, saying “the last people we want to talk to are our coworkers and our family because we're ‘failures' at that point.”

“That's where having resources like the SafeUT Frontline app [come in],” he adds. “We can talk to somebody who won't be judgmental, will listen to us, and will give us feedback. We have resources from a third party that are confidential to talk about issues without having to worry about what family, friends, and coworkers think.”

The app is meant to be used by frontline workers' colleagues and families as well. If they notice that someone they care about is struggling and may be unwilling or unable to ask for support, they can confidentially connect to HMHI counselors through the app to learn how to support their loved one and receive resources.

“When I talk about this, it's from personal experience,” Winkler says. He likens the need for emotional support to not being able to perform surgery on yourself. “You just can't,” he says, adding that getting support for yourself as a frontline worker is helping your community more than you already do on the job.

“We all know there is a stigma of, ‘Am I going to get in trouble? Will I get a desk assignment? Will I lose my job?' That's not what's going to happen,” Winkler explains.

“They hired you for a reason. You're a great asset to wherever it is you are, and we want to help you become better. If that means finding you the resource, using the app, talking to whomever, they will rather do that every day and keep you as an asset than have the alternative. When I was a supervisor or talking with my current supervisors, there would never be any repercussions for any of this. We really want to make sure our people are the best they can be so they can continue to have great careers, help the people they're helping, and help people [who need support] along the way.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, encourage them to download the SafeUT Frontline app if work is getting too heavy to handle. Head to the app store on your mobile phone and download SafeUT Frontline today.