FAU to raise mental health awareness using virtual program

FAU and nearly 300 other colleges are taking a new approach toward teaching how to spot potential mental health problems in friends and family.


FAU’s Counseling and Psychological Services office on the second floor of the Breezeway. They recently launched a virtual program that teaches college students how to spot signs of mental health problems and how to be an effective listener. University Press file photo

Konstantina Gugudi, Contributing Writer

FAU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office is using a new technology to help college students more easily recognize signs of distress. 


They’re interactive simulations being used by colleges all over the country to help people identify and communicate with their “at-risk” peers, or those who exhibit “signs of abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, or cutting,” according to co-founder of the program Dr. Glenn Albright. The online program, called Kognito, lets students walk through different scenarios where college students learn what to do if their friend is in psychological distress. 


At-risk students have “minimal resources, significant (mental and physical) health concerns, and come from marginalized and oppressed identities,” CAPS Interim Director Blaise Amendolace said.

Counseling and Psychological Services Interim Director Blaise Amendolace. Photo courtesy of FAU

“[The program] is a great way to introduce people to concepts of identifying red flags, navigating difficult conversations, and identifying helpful resources,” he said.


Albright explained how Kognito works: “In the simulation, [you] enter a virtual environment and engage in a virtual person who has emotions, memory, and personality and will respond like a student in psychological distress,” he said. “It is practicing roleplay and getting feedback from a virtual coach to receive motivational interviewing strategies that are proven to be effective.” 


Kognito is purposefully designed for young students in college for good reason: a large portion of college students struggle with mental health issues. Over one-third of college freshmen worldwide last year reported they had a mental health disorder, according to the American Psychological Association.

mental health
Dr. Glenn Albright is the co-founder and director of research at Kognito, the company that provides CAPS’ new suicide prevention and mental health education online class. Photo courtesy of Kognito

Depression affects individuals of all ages, Albright said, but, “the earlier in one’s life you begin to have these conversations, the more likely it will work.”


CAPS offers an in-person program with a similar goal — suicide prevention — by request called “Lifesaver Training.” According to their website, training includes learning about “signs of risk” and “practice on how to approach a person you are concerned about.” The University Press reached out to CAPS, but has not received a response as of publication time. 


Due to the stigma around depression, some individuals may avoid vocalizing what they’re feeling. Because the simulations are virtual, he says, there is a lower risk of feeling judged or alienated, thus creating a comfortable environment for the student so that they can open up to their coach.


“They expose students to uncomfortable or confusing situations,” Amendolace said. “If they experience this in the real word, they have that exposure.”


You can try out the simulation for free here — just create a new account and enter the enrollment key: fau561. 

Konstantina Gugudi is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].