Planned ‘SafeKY’ app would offer mental health support, threat reporting all in one place
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - On Tuesday in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a discussion, if not action, on measures to prevent school shootings.
“We have a [bipartisan] group... discussing how we might be able to come together to target the problem, which is mental illness and school safety,” McConnell said. “We get back at it next week and hope to have some results.”
In Jefferson County, one state-level lawmaker isn’t waiting around for the federal government. Rep. Ken Fleming (R-District 48) has been working to bring a free mental health and threat-reporting app to Kentucky for months.
“It’s a cooperative, collaborative approach with law enforcement and mental health communities in order to make this happen,” Fleming said.
Fleming first had the idea when he saw news of the SafeUT app, an app available across the state of Utah. He immediately looked into adapting the program to create a SafeKY version of the app.
Now, he and a team including SafeUT and UofL Health Peace Hospital are actively pursuing the project.
“We know that youth need mental health support now more than ever,” Martha Mather, UofL Peace CEO said. “And what are youth going to first? Their phones.”
Through the app, students could call or text for help and find a licensed mental health professional on the other end. That counseling would be available 24/7 for any issue, school-related or otherwise.
Furthermore, if a student has a safety concern, such as a classmate with a gun or a social media threat, that student can also anonymously report their concern on the very same app. Those issues would go straight to law enforcement.
“It just makes sense to me to have it all in one place,” Mather said.
Mather said UofL Health can offer licensed therapists to get the program going, while the SafeUT team is helping adapt the app for Kentucky.
A mental health commission will also be formed to ensure the sustainability and longevity of the program.
“I think one thing the pandemic taught us is, the technology will work if we allow it,” Mather said. “If there’s an opportunity to reach youth, we should do it.”
SafeUT reports data on its website, boasting more than 2,200 users. Of those users, the majority are in middle school, followed by high school.
The majority of tips are about suicide, followed by bullying, drugs, and depression.
Fleming plans to propose legislation in the statehouse early next year that would fully fund SafeKY for all Kentucky students.
However, he and Mather hope to launch a pilot program in a select few districts this fall, likely including Jefferson County Public School. That pilot program would be funded in large part by private donations.
Fleming’s hope is that this app could help prevent a tragedy like the one in Uvalde, Texas, in which nearly two-dozen young students lost their lives.
“As many tools as we can come up with, and this is a pretty dynamic tool,” Fleming said.
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