(KXNET) — Kognito is an online, role-playing simulation that can help teachers and staff at a school learn the signs of mental distress, and how to correctly approach a student with declining mental health.

“What’s unique about this program is that it is practicing a conversation instead of just being about to identify symptoms,” said Pam Sagness, the executive director of behavioral health with HHS.

House Representatives heard from those in favor of House Bill 1312 to extend the program and resources.

“House Bill 1312 just extends the deadline for us to be able to provide services for schools K-12 anywhere in North Dakota for any personnel working with the school with resources and training on mental health and suicide prevention,” said Sagness.

Pam Sagness says it sometimes shocks people how young students are when they first deal with mental health issues.

“Think often when people think about mental health or suicide they think of teenagers, their thinking about substance use and kind of those risky ages but we know that children of all ages are dealing with trauma,” said Sagness.

Sagness says North Dakota is seeing an increase in our youth dealing with mental health problems.

“We know in North Dakota we are seeing an increase in mental health concerns and suicide and when we look at our 2021 data there were 153 deaths in North Dakota from suicide. Approximately 7% of those were ages 10 to 19,” said Sagness.

This is why Sagness and others believe this program is so important to extend its availability.

“Schools are the places where children and young people spend a large majority of their time. Because of these reasons, it is imperative that schools are equipped with the proper resources to handle mental health problems and suicide,” said Jacob Thompson who supports House Bill 1312.

Sagness says the community reaches out to their department nearly every day, which she says shows the need for programs like Kognito.

“When our systems are fragmented or when we don’t have connections to services it’s really difficult to find what you are needing. And lawmakers are really important in that because they appropriate funding and ensure that these programs exist,” said Sagness.

Currently, the program is available through June 2025. If passed, the bill would extend the program to June 2027.