“Things might’ve been different’: Monroe mom has ‘Got Your Back’ through suicide prevention app

MONROE, WIS. — There’s no one fix to ending depression and anxiety. Teri Ellefson knows this but she refuses to give up hope.

After the death of her son by suicide, she’s using an app to make an impact.

In the decade since the Green County mom lost her then 14-year-old, Ellefson hasn’t stopped trying to help others. With his spirit in mind, she launched a suicide prevention app named after the words he often said to his friends: “I got your back.”

“A couple people have said this saved our life until we could get in to see a therapist,” Ellefson said. “That’s a little overwhelming to think about it.”

One year after her son’s death in 2012, Ellefson launched the Jacob’s SWAG foundation, which stands for Support With Awareness and Giving.

Over the next eight years, she spent time going directly into schools across Wisconsin, educating kids about mental health, but she said the foundation wasn’t making the impact they had hoped and the trips were costly.

She knew then she had to make a change. In 2019, Jacob’s SWAG decided to do something different to reach more people more quickly.

“We thought what’s the one thing that is causing a lot of problems in people’s lives—whether its adults or kids—it was electronics,” she said. “Let’s use the one thing that causes a lot of problems to help solve some of the problems.”

The ‘Got Your Back’ app was launched in 2020 to bring mental health support to users’ fingertips at a time when making an appointment with a therapist often comes with a long waitlist.

One of the app’s first users was Lucy Heimberg, who said she struggled with depression and anxiety for years after she was sexually assaulted twice in eighth grade.

“I was 13 years old and I didn’t really know what to do with that,” she said. “I just really started struggling with my mental health. I was just—at the time I didn’t realize it was depression and anxiety.”

Heimberg is now a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

While she said she’s in a good place, getting there wasn’t easy. In high school, she was failing classes, quit playing sports, self-harmed and struggled to get out of bed when her mom reached out to Ellefson for some guidance.

Together, the two moms helped Heimberg see a weekly therapist and get on medication—that at first caused more harm than good — but they ultimately found the right prescription. It wasn’t until college, as she was struggling with the transition, that Heimberg said she had a mental health relapse. It was then she found her way to Ellefson’s app.

“That was really beneficial to me because I could log on and I could have these breathing exercises right here on my phone. I didn’t have to look them up,” she said. “If you keep fighting and you get the help you need and get the resources, I promise you it will get better.”

With the help of SSM Health’s sponsorship, the app has begun to reach users all across the country. SSM child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jeremy Chapman said the app’s design is just what people need to have quick access to the right resources at the right time.

“People will often do something without thinking it through when they’re in a state of distress,” Chapman said. “So have this available to you—the touch of a single button will help people channel that impulsive behavior towards something that will be safe for them.”

‘Got Your Back’ is free to use and offers those in need 24/7 help through positive affirmations, mood trackers, and a one-click button to send a message to a user’s support network. It also has a safety plan, which asks people things like what their triggers are, who they can contact when they’re in a crisis and what are some of their coping mechanisms.

To promote the app, which Ellefson hopes will soon be available in Spanish, she travels to conferences, schools and has even spoke to military groups. She hopes to one day be able to do that work full-time.

“I wish this app was around ten years ago when we lost Jacob. I think things might’ve been different” Ellefson said. “He’s kind of carrying his soul and his spirit through all of this I’m just the messenger.”

Click or tap here to download the app for Apple devices; for Android devices, click or tap here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or considering suicide, there are resources available to help. Calling 988 nationwide will connect you to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. In Dane County, Journey Mental Health Center has a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline at 608-280-2600.