Mental health innovator Kev Kokoska to receive Distinguished Alumni Award from KPU

Tue, Jun 11, 2024

A counsellor and social entrepreneur dedicated to making mental health care accessible is being recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).

Kev Kokoska, a 2010 graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, will receive the award on June 11 during morning convocation ceremonies at the university’s Surrey campus.

In his work, Kokoska focuses on mental health care, mainly for incarcerated men and communities typically unable to afford counselling services. 

"There's a history of incarceration and mental health issues in my family," says Kokoska. "Prison is a hyper-masculine environment, and if you can find out what mental health practices work in the hardest environments, probably there's some value in them in other environments."

Kev Kokoska
Kev Kokoska in his office.

Kokoska says the counselling market is imbalanced, with only wealthy people being able to afford a therapist. During the pandemic, he cofounded a platform that matches counsellors and clients using a pay-what-feels-fair system.

"During COVID, more people needed mental health support and didn't have as many resources. Free public platforms giving out mental health tools help make mental health more accessible, more inclusive and more fair."

Driven by giving back to the community and educating people about mental health and self-awareness, Kokoska established what he calls pre-therapy

"What's frustrating to me is that some people just need information. They haven't yet learned how mental health care works and what some basic skills are," he says. "It's unfair to charge people money to come to therapy when they may not need it. First, we need to give people all the information and tools they need to take care of themselves."

Kokoska tries to address gaps in the public mental health care system with creativity and innovation. 

"I'm an outside-the-box thinker and a creative person, so how could I add something meaningful that nobody else can think of?"

And for Kokoska, the answer is art. While pursuing his master’s degree at the University of British Columbia, he discovered a passion for acting. He wrote several one-person plays focusing on self-awareness to educate people about the importance of mental health. He took his interest further by studying documentary filmmaking while pursuing his PhD in interdisciplinary mental heath.

"I’m making little educational mental health films, and then I take those into the prison so people there can learn about mental health in a more engaging way."
Dr. Jocelyn Lymburner, a psychology instructor at KPU who nominated Kokoska for the award, notes that his eagerness to give back is outstanding. 

"What stands out most about Kev is his seemingly never-ending enthusiasm and capacity for using his education and training to improve systems and provide opportunities for others." 

Kokoska says receiving an award makes him feel the university appreciates their ongoing relationship.

"Receiving this award means a lot to me. It represents the mutual respect that KPU and I have had over the years." 

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes KPU alumni who demonstrate lifetime accomplishments in one or more areas: professional, entrepreneurial, innovation, service, exemplified resilience in the face of adversity, and significant regional, national, or international contribution.