New program at La Salle University uses virtual reality to help with suicide prevention

La Salle has started using avatars to train faculty on how to help young people in distress or at risk for suicide.

Suzanne Monaghan
October 20, 2018 - 11:04 am
Avatars

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- College can be stressful for many students. So La Salle University has started using virtual humans, also known as Avatars, to train faculty on how to help young people in distress or at risk for suicide.  

The program uses role play conversations with a virtual student.  

"So you're not happy?"

"I'm just bogged down right now with school and everything. I've got this pressure riding on me all the time."

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Glenn Albright with Kognito, the developer of the program, says through a series of interactive scenarios, it teaches how to identify at-risk students and facilitate a conversation where the young person feels safe.   

"Let's say that you become judgmental or critical, the virtual student will act like a real person and begin to shut down and become defensive," Albright explained.

There is also a virtual coach that gives feedback regarding the users conversational style and connects them to mental health support.

"We know that this type of help can make a significant difference in someone's life," Albright said.