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Lancashire MIND, a branch of the UK’s biggest mental health charity, has started a pilot scheme in Lancashire and at Lancaster University to encourage people to communicate with one another.
Recent studies have shown that Lancashire has the lowest level of wellbeing compared to the national average. MIND have decided to tackle this problem by creating the ‘Happy to Talk’ scheme which allows people to come together in a casual social situation and build strong healthy relationships that go further than just small talk.
Mia Scott, LUSU VP (Welfare and Community), who is championing the initiative at Lancaster University told SCAN “there has been a lot of research and it was found that relationships are proven to be the key to happiness and they are the most important aspect for positive mental health and this is exactly why these groups are focusing on relationships.”
23 volunteers from Lancaster University, who include a member of each of the welfare teams within college JCRs, have been trained to work as coordinators to run the ‘Happy to Talk’ groups as part of the Lancashire pilot. Scott, who attended the training with other volunteers said that “it’s basically about promoting happiness and wellbeing within your life and learning the skills to do that”.
Scott is keen to emphasise how important she believes that this pilot scheme will be in improving mental wellbeing and said that “we actually found that our mental wellbeing in the UK hasn’t improved since the 50s and there was discussions around why that might be and no one quite knows why but this is an initiative that tries to tackle that and make people aware that it is fine to go on the internet or spend a bit of time on your own but it’s also pretty important to nurture the relationships you have.”
Despite understanding the importance of the scheme improving everyone’s general wellbeing, Scott did stress that the groups were there as a preventative measure rather than as an advice service. The coordinators are trained to inform people of the relevant services that are available to them and are there in a casual, social manner rather than in place of a peer support group or a counsellor.
The ultimate aim for the ‘Happy to Talk’ groups is for it to be used as an initiative all over the UK. Scott said, “Lancashire MIND are going to help me get some feedback from the coordinators who are actually running the groups, the people who have actually attended them and LUSU who are helping to coordinate, to see how successful it was”. After this feedback, which Scott hopes will be positive, MIND will consider branching it out into other areas and across the entirety of the UK.
The University also has plans to expand on the ‘Happy to Talk’ scheme should it be successful. If the feedback collected by Scott and Lancashire MIND looks positive, the University has said that it is considering getting the college advisors to take part in the scheme. Scott, as a college advisor herself, believes that this would help college advisors in being able to communicate better with the students.
Scott believes that this scheme is just the start of broader awareness and communication within the University, Lancashire and nationally. She said “I guess the biggest part of this scheme is promoting the five ways to wellbeing which are: to be active, to connect with people, to give, to keep learning and to take notice”. Along with this, Scott also said that the whole idea of the pilot is to “get across the message that happiness leads to something rather than it being the reversal of achieving something”.