Mental illness among college students is prominent, with one in four college students dealing with some form of mental illness and one thousand suicides occurring on college campuses each year. Despite these numbers, only 40% of students seek help, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
With mental health issues impacting college students, Montclair State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is finding new ways to help students feel more comfortable seeking resources to cope with mental illness.
One of these resources uses simulation technology to teach Montclair State faculty how to approach students who show signs of mental illness. The software, Kognito: At Risk for Faculty and Staff, provided to CAPS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is a federal suicide prevention grant that will be available to faculty and staff at Montclair State on Oct. 1. This will be the third year CAPS will be using the simulations.
Director of CAPS, Dr. Jaclyn Friedman-Lombardo, believes that faculty members should take advantage of the resource.
“I’ve met with various departments on campus and done training for faculty and staff and I always mention Kognito: At Risk and encourage them to use it,” Friedman-Lombardo said.
The program is sent out to faculty by email and can be taken as many times as the user desires. In 45 minutes, it runs through three different scenarios of students showing signs of mental illness, taking faculty from easy, to medium and particularly difficult scenarios of approaching students.
Cofounder and Director of Research at Kognito, Dr. Glenn Albright, is responsible for studying the impact of the simulations. He also works as a professor at Baruch College and is no stranger to the struggles of reaching out to students with signs of mental illness.
“You get a lot of students becoming aware that they themselves are struggling and that they would appreciate an opportunity to go to the counseling center to try and figure things out,” Albright said. “Most faculty really don’t know how to have a mental health conversation with a student, how to make a referral and where to make a referral.”ment
Through surveying students and faculty at various schools that use the Kognito simulations, Albright has found that the simulations have a positive impact. By studying students’ mindsets and behavior, his research has found that students with mental illness show improvement as early as two months after the simulations are introduced.
Albright has recently been researching stigma around mental illness as well, something he says needs to be addressed in order to help people with mental illness.
“Stigma is a huge barrier for students seeking help,” Albright said. “So if you can reduce the stigma, then they’re more likely to get help.”
The At Risk for Faculty and Staff simulations were Kognito’s first venture into addressing mental illness. Since the program’s creation in April 2007, Kognito has expanded its catalogue of mental health simulations to cover more schools such as K-12 simulations. They also address more specific topics, like how to support LGBTQ+ students and student veterans.
Although Montclair State only uses the faculty and staff simulations, CAPS has many resources that students fighting mental illness can use. Some of these resources include “Let’s Talk,” a service offered in seven locations around campus for students to talk confidentially with a counselor, as well as TAO Connect, an online counseling resource for students who may be more comfortable seeking help virtually.