Be Safe is a mobile app that helps youth who struggle with their mental health to create a plan for dealing with crises (backed by a guide to find support and a personalized “script” to follow once they’ve made the connection). The app was conceived of by a dedicated youth team, many of whom had experienced a mental health crisis, who were coached by  staff from mindyourmind, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and other partners in the Systems Improvement through Service Collaboratives initiative (SISC) in London, Ontario, and surrounding areas.

Together, this diverse group of service users and providers thought about what they could do to help youth experiencing a mental health crisis, and asked how they could connect them to the services they needed, using the devices that they’re most likely to have with them. A member of the mindyourmind youth team, and a user of the app, shared the conclusion: “Have you seen a young person without a cell phone in their hands? Me neither.”

It’s the participation and input of that youth team that made Be Safe the valuable tool it is, making the app work so well for its users. While this is the development goal for all of our work, this project was personal for the youth team members, who knew exactly what they needed in the event of a mental health crisis. The groundwork done, the combined client team then contacted Ellipsis Digital to help them with the design and development work. The first version of Be Safe was released in 2013, and was specific to London and area.

The newest version of Be Safe was launched in June 2015 and features the following:

  • a decision tree, in which the user responds to questions about their immediate circumstances (e.g., whether they or someone else is in danger) and their mental and emotional state. Based on their answers, the app suggests the local resources that might be most appropriate or helpful.

  • the “Be Safe Plan,” which users can fill out to refer to when they are in crisis. The Plan includes their key personal information (e.g., name, address), medication they’re taking, and some personal coping strategies.

  • a personalized “Get Help” script, where details are drawn from the user’s personal information to provide suggestions of what they might want to share with professionals or other supports if they are reaching out at times of need or crisis.

When handed to an emergency room healthcare provider, the details in the “Get Help” script have the power to change the ER experience for someone whose crisis has left them unable to communicate. Being able to hand a treatment provider all of your medical and contact information when you can’t talk changes you from an “uncooperative patient” to someone who is working to the best of your ability with the healthcare professional.

Be Safe’s main navigation screen gives simple and direct access to all of the app’s features; the question pages in the decision tree are similarly clear and easy to use. The end result is a simple, and easily accessible, place to keep the information they need in case of a crisis, and provides an intuitive guide to appropriate services based on where users are at on a spectrum of "sorta could use some support" to "I am likely to harm myself or others."

As an app that provides critical support to youth, it was essential that Be Safe be widely accessible. We created a clean interface, with clear language, and colours that can be seen by individuals with colour blindness. We’re delighted to report that the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (RGD) concurred with our design choices, and recognized our work on Be Safe with a 2015 So(cial) Good Design Award.

The success of the London-specific version of Be Safe sparked interest among other service collaboratives across the province, who partnered with mindyourmind to develop their own community-specific mental health and addiction resources listings. The current version of the app includes provincial-level resources and community-specific resources in 13 partner regions across Ontario. These resource listings include the service name, a short description of the services offered, the phone number, hours of operation, and ages served.

The youth team member sums up the app quite succinctly:

“The Be Safe app addresses the needs of youth by putting their key personal information and their health care options literally in their hands.”
“I use the Be Safe smartphone app on a daily basis. I refer to my lists of medications in the app when visiting the pharmacy; I share the addresses of local service providers to friends in crisis, to advise them of their options.
“When I’m not using the app for personal resource or to help a friend, I’m showing it off while gushing about the life changing experience of working with some of the most powerful minds in our community.”

In the month since the iOS version of Be Safe has been launched, there have been 978 users, and 1455 sessions (a session is defined as the period of time the user is actively engaged with the app), with 9,843 screen views; we expect those numbers to grow as more young people learn about Be Safe. The Android version was launched second, and we look forward to seeing similar results on that platform.

Our mission at Ellipsis is to build bridges between people, within communities, between the online world and the offline experience. With Be Safe, we were given an extraordinary opportunity to connect youth in crisis to the services that could potentially mean the difference between life and death. And while client interaction is an important part of our process, working with this youth team who brought their experience enabled all of us to create an app that provides youth the tools to survive a mental health crisis. For the amazing, honest, engaged youth team members, this was personal, a passion project. And that made it personal for us, too. All of our projects are important, but knowing that we’ve helped to create a tool that can save lives has touched us in a unique way.

We’re lucky to work with our clients, and appreciate all of them. But we’d like to personally thank mindyourmind and the youth team for this wonderful opportunity.

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