Kognito Software Kick-Starts Mental Health Initiatives

What do you do if a student in class or at work starts showing up distracted, less talkative or stops showing up at all? Ignore it? Ask about it? But how do you start that conversation?

Thanks to mental health training offered at Kent State, faculty and staff are better prepared for recognizing symptoms of distress, having conversations with those in need, and making referrals to the appropriate mental health services.

The College of Public Health received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of $306,000 last fall to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention around campus. The grant is paying for a variety of different systems that are now offered free to Kent State University employees. 

Among the initiatives that the grant is paying for is Kognito, a new platform designed to simulate conversations between professors and students who are at risk for mental health complications and suicide. 

The Kognito software involves two avatars that exchange conversations between each other. One Kognito avatar represents a faculty member and the other represents an at-risk student. The new Kognito program aims to make anyone in contact with students feel more comfortable in aiding students who have stress-related problems.

Sheryl Chatfield, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Public Health, said since she has been working at Kent State, she’s noticed an increase in the stress and alienation of students. She took the Kognito online training course this fall.

“College students experience all of this stress about careers and jobs, whether it’s self-imposed or family expectations, it pushes students to focus on the bottom line,” Chatfield said. “The stress and pressure to succeed impacts all aspects of their lives.”

Kim Laurene, Ph.D., assistant professor and assistant director in the Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said that the software shows faculty and staff how to detect the signs of mental health distress and assist appropriately. 

The virtual environment of Kognito allows the user to role play with preloaded questions and statements to interact with the student. 

“You get to test out your interaction, and that’s low risk because you know it is a simulation,” Laurene said.

“I believe it is a great resource that is available to faculty, staff and students,” said Deric Kenne, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Public Health. “We have heard from individuals who have completed the training that it helped them to better understand issues related to student mental health and the program has helped equip them with skills to assist students.”

“Few, if any, students are going to come up to their supervisor or professor and say ‘Hi I’m experiencing mental health distress!’” said Luke Armour, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “What I liked about this course was that it showed me some clear warning signs to watch out for and gave me tips on how to - and how not to - engage and coach the students.”

“One of the fears a lot of faculty have is that they’re not trained to be mental health professionals,” Chatfield said. “The focus of this training was to give faculty a model for giving students the next step.”

“It was helpful,” Armour said. “And the ‘choose your own adventure’ features made it more engaging than a webinar or pamphlet.”

Faculty and staff who take part in Kognito are eligible to become a part of the Hear to Help initiative at Kent State, advocating and supporting those with mental health distress. 

“After you take the training, you can choose to participate in Hear to Help. We will send you Hear to Help stickers, buttons or window clings to display,” Laurene said. 

Laurene said students learn about Hear to Help through online videos, flyers and faculty mentioning the initiative. Students are encouraged to feel comfortable after seeing the symbol and knowing that the faculty has been trained in mental health awareness.

“Students will share with others that they feel like they’re in a welcoming and supportive environment,” Chatfield said. 

In addition to the actual mental health benefits this training provided, faculty and staff were also able to receive one Beyond Compliance credit for completing Kognito.

The grant money is also going towards Question, Persuade and Refer Training (QPR). This video-based program is open to students, staff and faculty to participate in a 60-minute mental health awareness simulation. 

Faculty and staff regularly seek training and resources to support the Kent State community.

“We are increasingly receiving calls and emails from colleges, departments, organizations and individuals asking for more information about the Kognito training or other mental health trainings that we offer,” Kenne said. 

Though this round of funding is ending, there is potential for future allocations. 

“Funding will end Sept. 29, 2021,” Kenne said. “It is possible that SAMHSA would release additional funding at the end of this current grant cycle.” 

To take Kognito At-Risk for Faculty and Staff go to www.kent.edu/mhsu/kognito-facultystaff.

To learn more about the College of Public Health go to www.kent.edu/publichealth. For more information about the Division of Mental Health and Substance Use, Hear to Help, and QPR visit www.kent.edu/mhsu

POSTED: Monday, September 23, 2019 11:11 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 08:54 AM
Linden Miller