Client Spotlight: University Supports Student Mental Health Through Simulation

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) is a top-ranked public university serving more than 47,000 students, and its Counseling Center is a recognized leader in the area of suicide prevention programming. They partnered with Kognito to provide the At-Risk suite of virtual simulations to help students and faculty members better identify, support, and connect students in distress with campus services.

Kognito’s simulations have supported UI’s commitment to promote health and wellness on campus through interactive role-play conversations with emotionally responsive virtual students. We conduct extensive research to analyze the effectiveness of our simulations, and are happy to share recent findings that show their positive impact on knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors of UI students and staff.

How UI Uses the Power of Simulation to Support Student Mental Health

Kognito’s simulations are a primary resource for the UI’s campus-wide safety net. The University encourages all students and staff to experience the research-proven simulations — which are available on the counseling center’s website with a single sign-on. As an extension of the campus community, parents and partners also have access to the simulations.

University officials view suicide as a public health concern, and are committed to ensuring students are aware of campus resources available to students in crisis — especially as the pandemic has amplified mental health challenges. They use At-Risk as mental health gatekeeper training so that students and staff can spot warning signs, know how to respond, and connect students in distress with support services. Specific information about the University’s counseling and mental health services is available through a “local resources” section in the course links.

“Mental health is really imperative for everything we do. We believe that if our students are well mentally, they’re going to be more successful and they’re going to thrive and achieve what they’ve set out to do by coming to the university,” says Nichole Evans, Media Communications Coordinator for the Counseling Center. 

“Sometimes students are kind of hesitant to reach out to one another. If they notice something, our goal is to help reduce some of that stigma so students are comfortable talking about their mental health and hopefully comfortable reaching out when they need help.”

Simulation Makes Students and Faculty More Prepared to Talk About Mental Health

Kognito distributes surveys to learners before, immediately after, and three months after completing its simulations. The following results were captured between 2013 to 2021, and showcase the real-world impact of virtual simulation.

Both students and faculty had an impactful experience.

99% of students and 100% of staff rated the simulation as “excellent”, “very good” or “good”. Over 90% said they would recommend the simulation to their peers.

“I like the interactive aspect where I got to choose which answer I was most likely or felt best about. I also like the virtual coach during the experience because I know I would feel nervous in this conversation and having that guidance was super helpful!” – UI student

“It felt very real to life and applicable. I liked the choose your own adventure style of questions and the immediate feedback bar and intermittent advice.” – UI staff member

Following the simulation, students and faculty felt more prepared to address student mental health.

In surveys conducted immediately following the simulation, as well as three months after, students and staff reported that they were significantly more prepared to:

  • Recognize when a student’s behavior is a sign of psychological distress
  • Recognize when a student’s physical appearance is a sign of psychological distress
  • Communicate with student your concern about the signs of psychological distress they are exhibiting
  • Motivate a student exhibiting signs of psychological distress to seek help
  • Recommend mental health support services (such as the counseling center) to a student exhibiting signs of psychological distress

Students had more meaningful conversations with one another about mental health.

Three months following the simulation, students were asked about how often they reached out to peers they were concerned about. 

  • There was a 46% increase in the number of students they approached to discuss concerns about their psychological distress.
  • There was a 45% increase in the number of students they referred to support services.

Staff had more conversations about at-risk students, and made more referrals to support services.

As a result of applying the skills learned in the simulation, over half of faculty and staff participants said they’ve had more conversations with their colleagues regarding students they are concerned about.

They also made 224 referrals since completing the training (according to the 3-month followup survey), helping students get the support they need.

Evans says they have had instances where students have brought a peer to the counseling center, mentioning the training and that they recognized warning signs from the simulation.

Students and staff found the situations to be realistic and relevant.

Many students and faculty members who completed the simulation made comments in the post-simulation survey about the relevance of the scenarios presented in the simulations. Kognito works with subject matter experts and representatives from colleges and universities to ensure the content is impactful and relatable, and we test our simulations with real college students.

“The problems in this course were up-to-date and real things students could be facing. The writing never felt outdated or out of touch.” – UI student

“A simulation of a potential conversation really helped the immersion and how a conversation could go in a real situation.” – UI student

Want to Bring the Power Simulation to Your Campus?

If you’re committed to supporting student mental health, incorporating mental health gatekeeper training like Kognito’s At-Risk suite can help your campus-wide wellness efforts. Learn more and take a demo of one of our simulations at

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