Texas A&M University making mental health a top priority for students

More colleges and universities are recognizing student's mental health is critical, especially now, as they face increased stress and anxiety as a result of the pandemic.

Texas A&M has worked to provide mental health services in many different ways, but with the help of Kognito's At Risk training they're giving students the tools they need to help each other by conversing with virtual humans and acting out real-life crisis scenarios.

"For some students, it's not just about their life here, or their college student life, but it's their life back home and how they may have to handle multiple hats for being a provider or caretaker at home."

Santana Simple, Assistant Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Texas A&M University, says while students continue to experience anxiety and depression, social isolation has been their biggest struggle.

"I think we've seen in the counseling center is a lot of students trying to figure out a way to adapt and I think they kind of ran into  that wall from time to time because that social connection was their lifeline," says Simple.

Santana says some students were already feeling overwhelmed before the pandemic.


According to the American Association of Suicidology, 86% of college students who died by suicide did not seek campus counseling prior to their death.

However, during the pandemic, she says more faculty and students have utilized their resources, like Kognito At-Risk, a 45-minute online intervention training program.

"I would say we've seen about a 40% increase in the number of users that we've had and this fall semester has been the biggest semester," says Simple.

A lot of times many people don't know what to do or say when concerned about someone's mental state, but the interactive role play simulation has two versions you can use: At-risk peer training and At-risk for faculty and staff.

"It gives you practice by you engaging in conversation with a virtual student who is coated with emotion and memory and personality and will react like a real student who's experiencing psychological distress."
Glen Albright, Co-founder and Director of Research at Kognito, says there are many different scenarios that allow them to build awareness, knowledge and skills about mental health.

"What we've shown and published, is that it really has a strong impact on user attitudes. Users feel more prepared to help identify and help students, they feel more confident that they can engage in these difficult conversations, including conversations about suicide,“ says Albright.

As a result, they've been able to motivate more students at Texas A&M to seek help.

"Students appreciate how realistic it is, how it actually gives you tangible things that you can actually say, and practice not only just verbally but you know especially now in this digital world how do you text that, what should you say to offer that support via text or over the phone or even in zoom," says Simple.

Kognito at Risk has been adopted by 5,000 schools and districts nationally, but if you need more help or advice call the city of Houston’s Mental Health Helpline at 713-999-9442. It's open 7 days a week from 1 p.m. - 11 p.m. until Christmas.

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