Mental Health Support at CapU

Shedding light on the avenues and challenges to accessing therapy as a CapU student


 Kirsten Wiltshire (she/her) // Staff Writer 
Liza Borissova (she/her) // Illustrator 


As the semester comes to a close, with final papers, projects and exams accumulating all at once, time becomes more and more precious. While deadlines rapidly approach, life doesn’t pause for university due dates. There are support systems for Capilano University students with services on campus and online, but the increased stress of the end of the semester sheds light on the challenges of accessing mental health support as a CapU student, and the cracks in the system may leave room for students to fall through.  

According to a 2022 report from the Canadian Alliance of Students Associations and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in three students reported that on-campus services do not meet the diverse needs of students, and only 28 per cent of students were aware of how to access services. 

“I am afraid that students give up looking,” says Keith Lam, co-ordinator and counsellor at CapU Counselling Services. “You should call us. We’ll find something… I don’t want people feeling like that; I have to wait for a month, and then it’s too late.” There are three main avenues for CapU students to access mental health support through the university; CapU Counselling, Dialogue (telehealth provider), and using benefits provided in the Studentcare plan.   

To gain a better understanding of the services available to students, I went through the process of accessing each mental health support avenue. CapU Counselling Services are available Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. online and in person. Counselling services are free for students enrolled in at least one course. There are six counsellors on the CapU team and bookings open up 2 to 3 weeks in advance, but 15-20 minute drop-in appointments are also available every day. 

Sessions can be booked online or by telephone. If there isn’t something available online, call the office at 604-984-1744. All sessions adhere to Canada’s counselling confidentiality agreement. “Check us out and see whether this is something for you,” Lam encourages. Additionally, there are self-directed resources online through CapU Counselling.

However, CapU Counselling breaks over the winter as well as sporadically throughout the summer, meaning students must work around the limited hours available and may have to plan for weeks, if not months, without sessions.

Another avenue is Dialogue, a virtual care and well-being platform that offers a variety of telehealth services included in the student healthcare plan. I could not find specific information detailing what is offered to CapU students on their website. It took me 15 minutes to make a Dialogue account and another 15 minutes to fill out their mental health intake form. The soonest available appointment was two and a half weeks away. A few days later, I filled out the intake form again to see if I could get an appointment sooner. I was told someone would be calling me shortly on my laptop to discuss options, but was then alerted that their wait times were longer than usual. No time frame was given, and I had a meeting to get to. The Dialogue support team informed me via email that they would give me a call for about 15 minutes to understand my situation better and then refer me to the appropriate professional on the platform based on the context and my symptoms. They also said there are four sessions allotted per case, with an unlimited number of cases.  

Full-time students at CapU who haven’t opted out of the healthcare plan through the Capilano Students’ Union have coverage for therapy outside of the counselling on campus and the services through Dialogue. Students can find registered mental health practitioners on their own or through the discounted services at Psyvitaliti. Psyvitaliti is a counselling service in BC that is part of the Studentcare Network, which means they come at a discounted rate for CapU students; $30 off each visit. They offer virtual and in-person counselling, and the soonest session I could book online was 2 days away. 

The Studentcare plan offers $900 of coverage per policy year, a total of about 6.5 appointments. It took me an hour and a half to sift through the Studentcare policy to find this information, sign up for a Blue Cross online account, link my bank to my Blue Cross for direct deposit, find documents from my therapy appointments, and submit a claim. Far better than simply paying out of pocket, but still a limiting factor. 

The 2022 report by CASA and MHCA found the top barriers to accessing services to be long wait times, lack of knowledge of services or how to access them and perceived quality of services. They also found that the “most at risk for negative mental health included: younger students, students with lower income, students identifying as 2SLGBTQ+, and those living with a pre-existing mental health concern.” 

If the counselling services on campus are intended to remove barriers to access, it would be unfair to assume that all students can find connections in the team the school provides. A relationship with a mental healthcare practitioner is highly individualized. In the 2021-2022 school year, the population of CapU consisted of 9042 students with 3724 full-time domestic students coming from all over the lower mainland and 1707 full-time international students from 76 countries. The student body consists of diverse experiences, backgrounds and cultures, with a large variance in needs and support required. CapU’s slogan is “You Belong Here,” however, the mental health services provided by the university don’t necessarily reflect this affirmation of belonging. 

For example, with no Black counsellors available at CapU, a Black student looking for a mental health practitioner with a similar lived experience must take on the additional time and administrative detective work to find a therapist who aligns with their needs. The Indigenous student counsellor position is currently vacant, but Indigenous students are encouraged to use the counselling services nonetheless, with the assurance that Counselling Services is “working to establish ongoing culturally safe and relevant mental health support.” However, when asked if students can request a counsellor with a specific lived experience, Dialogue said they “[are] committed to hiring care team members from diverse backgrounds.” Though that may be an avenue for specified care, it’s not guaranteed.

“At the moment, we are not covering all the aspects of the student populations. We cover quite a bit, but not all.” Lam wants students to reach out regardless of their preconceived notions about CapU’s services. “I’m a guy. I’m Chinese. I’m not born in Canada … if you look at me, I’m not most students attending CapU. But I hope that my experience over the years allows me to be working with a wide variety of students.” Lam hopes that students will reach out to Counselling services regardless of their circumstances, he says that at the very least they can be a launch pad to direct students to the help they need. 


If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call 911. If you or someone you know is in crisis or in need of help contact 310-6789 for mental health support. If you or someone you know is considering suicide call 1800SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). 

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