Kognito helps faculty, staff discuss mental health concerns with students

Animated simulations mimic real-life conversations

Kognito mimics real-life conversations between faculty or staff members and students.

Appears agitated. Avoids eye contact. Stops participating in class.

The signs of stress, anxiety or depression in a student may be easy to spot. The hard part is knowing what to do next.

Kognito At-Risk for Faculty & Staff, an online simulation tool, will help Washington University in St. Louis faculty and staff lead effective discussions with struggling students. The need could not be more urgent. Studies show that 60 percent of students with mental health concerns never seek help.

“We have absolutely heard from faculty and staff that they want more training in having these very important conversations,” said Thomas Brounk, director of mental health services at Habif Health & Wellness Center. “Faculty and staff are not meant to be mental health experts, but they do play an important role as the eyes and ears of our campus. Kognito will help them feel more prepared when these issues come up in their office or classroom.”

Users, playing the role of university professor, are led through three conversations — one with an anxious student worried about her midterm; another with a paranoid student who is convinced his textbook contains a secret message; and another with a student who obliquely hints at suicide. The user may choose among various questions and observations, which will lead to different responses from the virtual student. Along the way, the Kognito “coach” offers suggestions. The program takes about 45 minutes to complete and can be started and resumed at the user’s convenience.

“These are the sort of difficult conversations that a faculty member is likely to have,” Brounk said. “There is no single right way to have these sort of conversations. That’s what makes Kognito so effective and engaging — users can experiment with different ways to have a conversation and receive immediate feedback.”

Some 400 universities offer Kognito to faculty and staff. Users report the program has helped them to better identify, approach and refer students exhibiting signs of psychological distress.

Brounk said Kognito is just one tool available to faculty and staff. He and Jordan Worthington, assistant director of mental health outreach and programming, also provide training to departments and welcome calls from faculty and staff. Also, any member of the university community who is concerned about the physical or mental well-being of a student may file a report with WashU Cares.

“It not either/or. It’s both-and,” Brounk said. “We want all of our resources to be accessible.”

To use Kognito, visit the Kognito website and create a new account. Use the enrollment key wustl18.

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