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NY launches program to prevent student suicides

photo courtesy of Kognito Interactive

By Joyce Kryszak


Buffalo, NY – The New York State Office of Mental Health has launched an interactive, online training program to help high school teachers cope with potentially suicidal students.

The Kognito Interactive training program is designed like a game. But the subject matter is anything but. Teachers log on to the web site to learn how to help prevent students from taking their own lives.

The virtual classroom setting provides teachers with three different student avatars, with which to interact. They all have different personalities, backgrounds and levels of emotional distress.

A virtual coach walks teachers through simulated conversations to prepare them for real life situations. And chances are they will have to deal with them.

According to Melanie Puorto, who heads the New York State's suicide prevention initiative, recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control show a rise in attempted suicides among students.

Fourteen percent have thought about it. Six percent have tried at least once to kill themselves. Puorto said those are startling numbers that should not be ignored.

"That's a deadly mistake, that people shouldn't make," said Puorto. "It's important to talk about suicide, to identify those at risk, to dispel the myth that talking about suicide leads people to think about suicide, because it just isn't true."

Unfortunately, she said most the calls they get come after there has been a tragedy. There have been at least five of those tragedies in Western New York over the past year alone.

Melissa Evingham is the assistant superintendent for instruction at Lakeshore Central Schools. She said they know they are missing kids who need help.

"We have had some situations in our school where we were very worried about the students that we had," said Evingham.

"So our teachers asked us to provide them with some further knowledge around this subject, so we could make sure we were connecting with the whole child and equip our teachers with strategies to engage in conversations with kids to get them the resources they need."

The state will hold a webinar Tuesday to introduce the Kognito Interactive program to high school teachers statewide.

Schools interested in joining the program can go to Prevent Suicide NY.

Additional free resources also are available at New York State Office of Mental Health.