Monroe couple creates mental health app hoping to save lives after son takes his own life

MONROE, Wis. — Some healthcare providers, licensed therapists and schools are all using an app that a couple in Green County came up with.

Teri and Kurt Ellefson didn’t create the app with an intention to make money. They’re just hoping to give people a chance at life.

“There are lots of different ways people can get help,” Teri Ellefson said.

The Ellefsons launched the “Got Your Back” in April. The app helps users get immediate access to mental health resources in several ways.

Users can use the app to find mental health support anywhere in the country through a built in map that will automatically populate with the nearest mental health offices, clinics, etc. The app also allows users to create what’s called “My Squad”, which is a group of the users closest family and friends. The user can send a pre-written text to them letting them know what their triggers are, if they need to talk to someone or if they need help. Teri Ellefson said the text is prewritten because it’s often difficult for those going through a mental health crisis to reach out and know what to say.

The app also has calming and meditative exercises built in.

“We have gone through eight months and it’s still rolling out to new groups,” Teri Ellefson said. “It’s hitting different states. We know it’s been downloaded on the east coast, west coast, down in Texas.”

But the app is more than just about helping others through difficult times in their lives; it’s helping the Ellefsons, too.

“Jacob was a vibrant 14-year-old boy that loved to make everyone smile, was kind of a class clown and the person that was just making sure everyone else was OK.”

Their son, Jake, took his own life on June 7, 2012.

“Every day we wish he would have opened up to us to get help but unfortunately he didn’t,” Teri Ellefson said. “So we are just trying to help every other family or any other teenager that it’s OK to talk about it.”

In March, the Ellefsons consulted with counselors, therapists and Jake’s closest friends to create the app. Jake’s best friend Ben Latimer said, “I think he would be happy with how much he and how much his parents are helping other people. I think he would be proud of his mom and dad taking a tragedy and growing it into something that’s supporting people that need it.”

Teri Ellefson said she initially postponed releasing it due to COVID, but the design team she worked with felt this spring was the best time to release it.

“This is no coincidence, in my opinion, that this happened all at the same time,” said Patrick Bodell with Synqronus Communications.  “Because this is such a monumental year, because people are struggling so much in their day to day lives, this is where the app serves probably the biggest impact for most of the users that use it.”

Whether or not this app could have helped Jake, “No one can really say, but in my heart, I really think it would have,” Kurt Ellefson said.

The Ellefsons can at least find some comfort in knowing they’re now helping others, which is something Jake did his entire life.

“I just wish he would have known he would have had help,” Teri Ellefson said. “It’s so hard being a teenager. It’s OK to talk about it and to reach out to, if it’s not your parents or a teacher, just to anybody.”

The “Got Your Back” app is free to download on any device. To learn more about the app and the Ellefson’s mission, click here.