Simulations Help Teachers Handle Student Mental Health

When it comes to child and adolescent mental health, teachers fill a critical gap as gatekeepers. Not only are they able to identify factors that could yield an important diagnosis, but they can report on the efficacy of treatment, and even encourage positive social and emotional skills.

Yet, teachers often don’t receive adequate training for dealing with students with mental health disorders. In fact, a 2014 review of professional teachers found that only 20 percent could “identify and explain early mental health symptoms.”

Could teachers instead learn those skills from a computer program? A study co-authored by Baruch College Professor Glenn Albright examined a new program called “At-Risk for Elementary School Educators.” Developed by Kognito, a health simulation company, it trains teachers from pre-K to high school in recognizing mental health disorders and preventing suicide via online simulations with virtual students exhibiting psychological distress. Albright is a co-founder of Kognito. 

Researchers asked 18,896 teacher participants from across 10 states to complete the simulation, and measured their response. Overwhelmingly, teachers liked the program, and agreed that schools should offer it as virtual training. More than that subjective response, however, researchers found that the simulation improved teachers’ Gatekeeper Behavior Scale score, which measures how well they can identify risky behaviors. Albright and his colleagues paid close attention to three subscales: “learner preparedness, likelihood, and self‐efficacy to engage in gatekeeper behaviors.”

Online simulations — as opposed to real-world trainings — have several benefits, including allowing teachers to engage in situations that could be more stressful and awkward than in a real-life scenario. The researchers concluded, “The training was effective at increasing self‐reported helping behaviors over a 3‐month period, including increasing the number of conversations addressing mental health concerns with students, parents, and colleagues.”


This story has been updated to reflect Albright’s position as co-founder of Kognito. 

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“Enhancing Educator Engagement in School Mental Health Care Through Digital Simulation Professional Development”

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Glenn Albright (Professor, Psychology) | Profile 1

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Baruch College

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