CSU and CapU Join Forces to Provide Additional Mental Health Supports to Students

Empower Me aims to reduce wait times and take into account diversity of student population

Bridget Stringer-Holden (she/her) // News Editor
April dela Noche Milne // Illustrator

“If there is a wait time of a week, that’s too long — the action has to be right now,” says Akira Yamagishi (he/him), the Capilano Students’ Union’s (CSU) Vice-President of Finance and Services. 

This year, the CSU is working especially hard to advocate for mental health, including running activities for Mental Health Awareness Week to combat the stigma against seeking help. “Everyone [looks for help],” states Yamagishi, “and we just want to make it okay for people to reach out and for people to understand that it’s perfectly healthy and acceptable to seek mental health services.”

On the services side of Yamagishi’s portfolio, he makes sure that all services are tailored to students and that they continue in a cost-effective manner that delivers to students what they need in any current time. Examples include the U-Pass hardship fund — which the CSU brought back to help students during the pandemic — the book market, and the housing and volunteer registries.

On the financial side, the VP Finance and Services helps create the budget for the following year, monitoring the current budget, and approving expenses and other budget-related items. The final aspect of Yamagishi’s portfolio includes the student spaces perspective, which he says is “mostly focused on the student union building and trying to finally bring this seven-year project to tangible results we can see and use.”

As part of the push for mental health, Empower Me is the newest addition to the services offered to students 24/7 as of Sept. 2021, through a partnership with Capilano University (CapU). CapU offers counselling services, and the provincial service Here2Talk was implemented last year, but Empower Me is meant to alleviate the strain on the other counselling services and recognize the diversity of the student population and ensure that there aren’t lengthy wait times for students seeking help.

Here2Talk is a good program, but is very limited in certain factors — especially the cultural and diversity aspect,” said Yamagishi. While Here2Talk only offers services in English and French, Empower Me offers help in over 180 languages. This was a major factor in the decision to use the service, said Yamagishi, as features that include matching students and counsellors by gender and culture on first contact “make [Empower Me] as far reaching as possible.” 

Empower Me also allows for multiple sessions with the same counsellor over web chat, phone calls, video counselling or in person — the latter two of which aren’t offered through Here2Talk.  

“If [an] the issue is larger than just that one phone call, they can get down to the root and address the issues to the best of their ability,” said Yamagishi. Empower Me is also able to refer students to specialists if necessary.

The current agreement is until the end of the school year, with unofficial plans to extend it. “We want to see how much buy in there is, how many students have been using it, and really what the impact is,” says Yamagishi. “Are they finding it helpful? Are they finding it better than Here2Talk? We want to collect data on this.”

The psychological benefit within the extended health and dental plan was the most used aspect of the plan last year, according to Yamagishi. While Empower Me is a standalone service that was purchased, the need is there. As of right now, the CSU has no increased fees for students and are covering half the cost of the new service. CapU is paying the other half since they find that it’s a benefit to students and will help alleviate their counselling department.

“The CSU is always going to be there to help you,” states Yamagishi. “We’re happy to answer any questions and help you in any direction, as that’s our big goal this year — mental health awareness and combating the stigma.”

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