Suicide was the second leading cause of death for New Hampshire individuals aged 15-24 from 2009-13 according to the 2014 New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Annual Report. In that age group, which includes most college students, there were 102 completed suicides. The only cause of death that eclipsed suicide in this age category was unintentional injury, which led to a total of 224 deaths.
Though it hasn’t been since 2014 that a UNH student on campus completed a suicide, the issue has been and deserves to be a topic of relevant discussion at the university. Combating student suicide is a primary goal for the Campus Suicide Prevention Committee. Comprised of UNH faculty, staff and students, this group has a focus on increasing awareness of suicide prevention resources and support programs, while also working to eliminate the stigma that is often connected to the topic of mental illness. The Kognito program is one of the tools they promote and use for the cause.
Established in 2013 at UNH by way of collaborative campus funding efforts, Kognito is an online suicide prevention program that utilizes avatars to simulate conversations that allow users to gain knowledge on how to identify individuals who may be at risk for emotional distress.
In Kognito’s first two years at UNH, there were a total of four programs available for students and staff: “At Risk For College Students,” “At Risk for Faculty and Staff,” “LGBTQ On Campus For Faculty and Staff,” and “Veterans on Campus For Faculty and Staff.” Of those programs, the most widely used was the “At Risk” program, which had 1,443 student registrations and 872 faculty and staff registrations before Sept. 30, 2015. As of Oct. 5, 2016, those numbers have increased to 2,651 student registrations and 1,139 faculty and staff registrations for the “At Risk” programs.
Last year UNH received the Garret Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant (GLS grant), which supplies $100,000 to the university per year for the next three years. A portion of this grant, sponsored by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), has been directly allocated to the funding of furthering the capacity of UNH’s Kognito program. There is now a total of seven programs available via the website, though the most popular program remains to be “At Risk.” According to a flyer regarding UNH’s Kognito program, 91.72 percent of students and 93.55 percent of faculty and staff members who have completed the “At Risk” program would recommend it to their peers. The recommendation percentages from the other five programs range from 91 to 97, respectively.
Campus Suicide Prevention Program Co-Chair Amanda Fontaine said that the university receiving funds from the grant is contingent on meeting the goals for each year. The second year receiving the donation officially began Sept. 30, 2016.
According to Campus Suicide Prevention Program Co-Chair and GLS grant Project Manager Sean Moundas, the annual cost of having Kognito available to the university is $31,830 and is completely covered by the grant.
Fontaine said that she doesn’t believe there is a way to empirically measure whether or not Kognito has been a success since its incorporation at UNH. She said that the program relies on user ratings that are made publically available.
“The programs consistently receive high ratings,” she said. “Every one of them has a current user rating over 90 percent… so the users who are taking it feel like it is relevant and very applicable to what they would do if presented in a situation of someone in mental health distress.” However, Fontaine also said that these user ratings don’t necessarily reflect all of the users. In this case, the information behind these recommendation percentages is only collected from individuals who opt into the survey that is offered upon the completion of any of the Kognito programs.
“This is one aspect of a larger mission to foster campus conversations about mental health, and to make mental health a topic of priority,” Fontaine said.
Junior psychology major Caleb Jackson has completed two Kognito programs since first registering for the program in fall 2015. He said that it was through his membership in the student organization Stop the Stigma that he first found out about the online program.
“I think it is a great tool that doesn’t take long to complete, and it’s really interactive,” Jackson said. “It really teaches you well how you can identify kids that may need more help or attention than they are getting.”
Jackson said that while he believes that the Counseling Center and other such UNH organizations have done a good job promoting Kognito, he also thinks that public knowledge of the program could be expanded across campus.