Tess Webster-Henry with CAPS

Tess Webster-Henry is one of the mental health promotional team coordinators with CAPS, and has helped develop the new suicide prevention program called Kognito.

Counseling & Psychological Services will release an online interactive training for students, faculty, and staff. The program will use Kognito, a real-life mental health simulation to give users the skills and confidence to intervene when someone is struggling with mental health.

Kognito is a company that develops health-related simulations that use role-play conversations with virtual humans. Kognito provides professional development and public education simulations on topics such as mental health, substance use, chronic disease, family relations, medication adherence and patient-provider communication.

Oregon State University has been using Kognito’s Veterans on Campus simulation as a tool that faculty, staff and students can use to learn skills to engage with student veterans. The goal of this initiative was to help military college students to transition from military life to college life. Now, OSU has decided to invest in the At-Risk for College and University simulation. This simulation will provide the OSU community the opportunity to learn about mental health and suicide prevention. 

Glenn Albright, Ph.D, co-founder and director of Research at Kognito said in an email that he started the initiative Kognito for health and mental health to try to prevent tragedies such as the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, where a college student shot and killed 32 people on the campus before taking his own life. 

“It was clear that faculty and students needed to become aware of how to identify, talk to, and if necessary, refer students in psychological stress to support services. Using a virtual human role-play learning model was the most efficacious and cost-effective way to reach faculty and students,” Albright said via email.

A research on Kognito’s Avatar-Based Suicide Prevention Training for College Students conducted by Daniel Coleman, Natasha Black, Jeffrey Ng and Emily Blumenthal, found that training 14 students in Kognito leads to one more self‐referral to the Counseling Center. 

“Untreated mental illness has significant implications for academic success. It can cause difficulties with concentration, screening out distractions, test anxiety, peer interactions and low self-esteem,” Albright said via email.

According to the National Council on Disability Students with mental health disabilities who do not receive assistance are not as academically successful as their peers, with lower GPAs and higher dropout rates. 

“Untreated mental illness also impacts productivity, substance use, and social relationships,” Albright said in an email. “Lastly, the monetary costs associated with serious mental illness in the U.S. are estimated to total in excess of $300 billion per year.  We need to de-stigmatize mental health and provide appropriate services to promote mental health and wellness.”

Albright said that education on mental illness should start as early as K12 with parents and children to de-stigmatize it. The psychological factors play a huge role in physical illness including chronic diseases, because the mind and body are intimately connected and must be attended to as a whole, according to Albright.

Kognito simulation programs are currently being used by several colleges including the University of New Hampshire, the University of South Florida, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and California community colleges.  

The simulation At-Risk for University & College Students will take approximately 30 minutes for students to complete, where the training for faculty and staff will take 45 minutes.

“Plans are being developed to promote and mandate this program to various groups. The training will be made available to all in the OSU community. It will launch during winter term,” Tess Webster-Henry, mental health promotion coordinator of CAPS said via email.

It is not yet clear which groups at OSU will be required to take the training, but the training will be available this winter term. 

People at OSU that are interested to take the training will be able to access it through the Bridge Learning Library, OSU’s learning management system.

Bonnie Hemrick, mental health promotion specialist at CAPS said Counseling & Psychological Services will be engaging with key decision-makers across the university to encourage staff, faculty and students to go through the training.

“Our hope is that this will encourage a community of caring in which we all look out for one another. This training should provide the skills and confidence to intervene when we see someone who is struggling,” Hemrick said via email.

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