What Does a College Mental Health Program Look Like in Action?

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. Colleges across the country are seeing high demand for mental health services, with reasons for that including more positive help-seeking behaviors in tandem with COVID-19.

Prior to the pandemic, a 2019 survey from the American College Health Association reveals just how much students were struggling pre-pandemic. In the 12 months leading up to the survey:

  • 87% of students felt overwhelmed
  • 66% of students felt very lonely
  • 45% of students felt depressed to the point it was hard to function
  • 13% seriously considered suicide

These are statistics that are only expected to climb for 2020 and 2021.

Two large public universities in Texas serve as examples of how they are creating more informed cultures of care as stress levels among students climb. As part of comprehensive mental health plans, these universities offer Kognito’s At-Risk suite, which includes a version for students and a version for faculty and staff. These simulations offer individualized practice in listening skills, empathy, asking challenging questions, and connecting students with the appropriate resources. Virtual coaches give real-time feedback. Research shows that these simulations have a strong effect on user attitudes, impacting preparedness and confidence to engage in conversations.

Texas State University

About Texas State

  • Located in San Marcos, TX
  • Public research university
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 38,000+ students

Why they chose virtual simulation as a college mental health program

  • During pandemic isolation, Texas State observed that many students aren’t coming straight to the counseling center, but are reaching out to their peers or professors.
  • According to Richard Martinez, a psychologist with Texas State’s counseling center: “This program is a form of prevention, which aims to teach skills and interventions, prevent or address mental health concerns early before they develop into mental health crises.”
  • Richard on why practice is important: “These conversations… I think folks sometimes can have nervousness and anxiety. ‘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.”


  • Texas State has trained more than 4,000 students and faculty since 2013.
  • While Texas State offers in-person suicide prevention training, Richard commented that virtual simulations are especially beneficial during the pandemic because everyone can do them from the safety of their homes.


You can also read more about their efforts in the Austin-American Statesman.

Texas A&M University

About Texas A&M University

  • Located in College Station, TX
  • Public land-grant research university
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 53,000+ students

Why they chose virtual simulation as a college mental health program

  • “For some students, it’s not just about their life here, or their college student life, but it’s their life back home and how they may have to handle multiple hats for being a provider or caretaker at home.”
  • Santana Simple, Assistant Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Texas A&M University, says that: “I think we’ve seen in the counseling center is a lot of students trying to figure out a way to adapt and I think they kind of ran into that wall from time to time because that social connection was their lifeline,”


  • Texas A&M has been able to motivate more students to seek help. They estimate a 40% increase in the number of users (faculty, staff, and students) in the fall semester, their highest usage to date.
  • According to Santana, “Students appreciate how realistic it is, how it actually gives you tangible things that you can actually say, and practice not only just verbally but you know especially now in this digital world how do you text that, what should you say to offer that support via text or over the phone or even in Zoom.”

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