LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Mental health was a top concern on college campuses even before the pandemic added the stress of remote learning, financial strain and isolation. But now there’s help from a unlikely source.
Texas State University in San Marcos is deploying “At-Risk Mental Health for Students,” a virtual mental health program that uses artificial intelligence and a virtual coach to help prepare students, faculty and staff for difficult conversations without being judgmental or making people defensive.
Here’s an example: “I don’t think I’ve seen you in class since Professor Brown wanted to meet with you. How’d that go?”
“COVID-19 has been devastating on the mental health of students,” says Glenn Albright, co-founder and director of research at Kognito, the health simulation company that developed the program.
Mental health was a top concern on college campuses before the pandemic, but online learning, financial stress and isolation are adding to the pressure students face. https://t.co/ArIiCwR597
— CBS Austin (@cbsaustin) December 19, 2020
The At-Risk Mental Health for Students simulation lets participants use their own communication style by choosing to follow up, relate or express concern. Then, a virtual coach provides real-time feedback.
“We feel less anxiety in role play with a virtual human because we feel less judged. It’s pretty cool. It’s a very unique learning experience,” Albright told CBS affiliate KEYE.
About 4,000 students have gone through the training so far (anyone affiliated with Texas State University can access the Kognito mental health training program by logging in here).
The University also offers in-person training for suicide intervention. But the virtual simulations are especially beneficial during the pandemic because everyone can do them from the safety of their homes, says Richard Martinez, a psychologist at Texas State.
“Folks sometimes can have nervousness or anxiety around, ‘Okay, I’m noticing some warning signs based on this student’s change in behavior or attendance. What do I do? How do I bring this up? I don’t want to offend them. I want to show that I care, but I don’t know what words to use.’ This helps them have that practice,” he says.