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New suicide prevention app aims to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness

Ohio University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, or CPS, has implemented a new, interactive mental health-centered app called Kognito. The app, which is available for students and faculty to register, is a suicide prevention program aimed to educate users on the various signs of mental illness through informative modules. 

Paul Castelino, director of CPS, said the idea for Kognito was sparked through an ongoing project CPS and the Division of Student Affairs have taken part in since 2014 called “Bobcats Who Care.” This initial project, Castelino said, serves as a “suicide gate keeper training program.” 

“This program was modelled after (the) ‘Campus Connect’ program developed at Syracuse University and has been widely used in other university campuses,” Castelino said in an email. “It is a three-hour interactive program that is comprised of experiential training components, for example, how to respond when someone is in crisis, as well as awareness of various resources available to students on campus.”

The reason for the shift to Kognito, Castelino said, was widely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the time commitments required for the old system could no longer be met. 

“While CPS trains about 400 to 500 student leaders, RAs, faculty and staff a year, given the three-hour commitment, it was hard for many to participate in this training,” Castelino said in an email. “With COVID-19 and many students, faculty and staff going remote last year, CPS researched for an online module that would provide similar training and chose Kognito Suicide Prevention program. It is an interactive, time efficient, self-paced program that provides several vignettes that are easily applicable to student life. While CPS continues to provide the three-hour Bobcats Who Care suicide gate keeper training program, we hope that many more will take advantage of this shorter, at your own space, and informative gate keeper program to support our Bobcat community.”

Paige Klatt, mental health support coordinator at CPS, described the various modules and resources that Kognito has to offer.

“Kognito Suicide Prevention is a web-based program that provides students, faculty and staff self-guided simulation modules that are brief and interactive,” Klatt said in an email. “There is a separate module for students and faculty/staff. The student simulation module is designed to help students recognize signs of distress in their peers and learn how to engage in difficult conversations. Whereas the faculty/staff module is designed to recognize signs of distress primarily in students. Both with the outcome of preparing others to have difficult conversations surrounding suicide and how to best support others. Although it is brief, with only three different simulations you have the option to play around with selecting a variety of responses to see how they might play out. This is a great opportunity to become more comfortable talking about suicide and learning what is and is not helpful.”

Since its debut for students this fall, Klatt said there has been an increase in the number of users who have chosen to partake in the application. Klatt hopes these numbers will only increase as the year goes on. 

“We began a soft rollout this summer with faculty and staff to test, prior to its launch for students this fall semester,” Klatt said in an email. “It’s our hope that we can get as many students, faculty and staff to participate as possible. It doesn’t take long to complete and can be started and stopped as needed. No matter who we are, we can benefit from participating and completing the training.”

Emily Squance, a junior studying journalism, is a member of OU Active Minds, a mental health promotion group on campus. Squance said the integration of apps like Kognito can help to reduce the connotation associated with mental illness. 

“I feel like mental health has such a big stigma, but I feel like this could help maybe end that stigma and open up a conversation amongst college students especially, for mental health, just to be a normal thing to be talked about,” Squance said. “You don't always know who's struggling with mental health issues because it seems like it's a very private thing. But maybe having an app like that could make it a more public thing, if people wanted it to be that way, and a way for people to build connections and build that bridge between each other.”

Klatt stressed the importance of Kognito is to open the door to difficult conversations regarding suicide and mental health to ultimately enable students and faculty to be better equipped with resources.

“We all need to practice having difficult conversations and learning how to recognize signs of suicide,” Klatt said in an email. “Talking about suicide is never easy, but the more we learn and practice doing it will help us feel prepared if we need to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide. We all encounter struggles in our lives and it’s important that we learn how to take care of one another, especially when it’s uncomfortable. It’s my hope that our campus, by having access to Kognito, will encourage all of us to be proactive versus reactive when it comes to helping others.”


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