OMAHA — A Nebraska app designed to help youth cope with mental health issues and prevent youth suicide has reached nearly 700 downloads a year after its launch.
The Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and its partners are now working to get the My Companion app into the hands — and phones — of as many young people as possible.
The app has many features and is divided into four main areas: Reflections, Connections, Resources and Emergency. It allows users to log their daily thoughts, enter contacts to turn to for help and support when they are struggling, and access various resources. By clicking, they can directly access the 988 suicide and crisis helpline.
“That’s the whole idea behind the app, is it provides a connection,” said Dr. Dave Miers, the coalition’s founder and senior director of behavioral health services at Bryan Medical Center. “Research shows that the more connected young people are, the less likely they are to harm themselves or use drugs.”
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Miers said the idea for the app came from a police officer who learned about a similar app in Utah that was released under the name SafeUT. Work on the Nebraska app, modeled after the Utah tool, began in the summer of 2018 and was created in partnership with Don’t Panic Labs and the Boys Town National Hotline. The Kim Foundation, a state organization dedicated to suicide prevention, provided initial support.
After the software developers created a skeleton app, the coalition held a youth suicide prevention summit. About 40 young people from all over the state tried the app and gave feedback.
“Overwhelmingly, we’ve had great feedback that we’re moving in the right direction,” Miers said. The app was released last February.
Utah officials, he said, have reported that as a result of the state’s app and other interventions, the number of youths expressing suicidal thoughts has decreased.
In Nebraska, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds. Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the state.
Miers said the app is among the interventions in the state’s newly updated suicide prevention plan, which will be implemented over the next three years.
The Kim Foundation created the 47-page document with the coalition and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to provide guidance to individuals, businesses, schools, health professionals, communities and other agencies on suicide prevention. It replaces another statewide strategic plan created in 2016.
Miers said the app is full of resources for the Omaha and Lincoln areas. But the coalition aims to give resources to communities that want to localize it.
While the app is designed for young people who are used to connecting with others through technology, it can be used by people of any age.
“It encourages them to communicate their feelings by using technology to reach out to others,” she said.
To download My Companion from the Apple App Store, visit apps.apple.com/us/app/my-companion-journal/id1558734264.
To get it from Google Play, visit play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nsp.companion.
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