I spoke to the lovely Angel who is currently an MSci in Psychology and currently in year 1. We spoke about her role as Project Leader for a Student-Led Project called Cultured Minds, which is a mental health project that tackles the interrelationship between culture and mental health.

Which project do you lead? Tell us a little about it

Cultured Minds explores the interrelationship between mental health and culture by increasing beneficiaries’ cross-cultural sensitivity on how mental health is perceived in various countries or regions across the world. We recently hosted a workshop with Outward and University of Arts London, and we will be hosting another one with Voice Collective and Staffordshire University London.

Tell us about your Project Leader role

Project Leaders in Cultured Minds mainly liaise between volunteers and partner organisations, as well as the student-led volunteering staff members. With other project leaders, I completed the risk assessment and project plan. When we just established Cultured Minds, we also held short induction sessions for each interested student and invited them to our team. As we’re wrapping up the year, we will be submitting documents such as the Evaluation and Handover Form.

Why did you want to become a Project Leader?

It relates with my personal aspirations in psychology and mental health. As an aspiring clinical psychologist, I hope to contribute to mental health advocacy throughout my journey. I previously set up a digital mental health campaign in Hong Kong, the city that I’m from. Then as I arrived here last year, I realised how in London there’s this cultural shock with the public attitudes towards various topics, including mental health and cultural diversity. Given that London is an extremely culturally diverse city, I thought it would be a great idea to create a project that exactly links culture and mental health.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by leading your project?

Our project started midway of the academic year, so I think there is much more space for the project to grow and impact. But so far, I think that by running the two workshops, we’ve already started the discussion on mental health in other London universities.

What I’ve really learnt is that volunteering isn’t about “pitying those in need”, but rather establishing genuine human connections

What impact has volunteering, and leading a project had on you?

Learning to empathise and respect various perspectives. I have been volunteering with various charities and what I’ve really learnt is that volunteering isn’t about “pitying those in need”, but rather establishing genuine human connections and respecting their point of view. By volunteering and leading this project, I’ve heard different stories of how individuals manage their mental health or support those around them, which have inspired me as I am supporting others in my volunteer roles.

How has your network developed whilst being a Project Leader?

I knew more senior psychology students and postgraduate students through the project. Through reaching out to other London universities and London mental health charities, I also expanded my network beyond UCL. For instance, I met a staff member at Outward from another Social Hackathon by the Volunteering Service, which I spoke to her after the Hackathon, and we made the first workshop happen.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered? How did you overcome this challenge?

Reaching out to universities and charities. For universities, we sent 40+ emails but we only heard back from a few of them. For charities, the SLP team helped us reach out to a list of organisations, yet only a few responded. I think this was because the timing of our emails, as we established the project in January this year and completed the recruitment in March which is the time when coursework deadlines pile up. For us, what we could do in this circumstance is to focus on the connections we already have and organise two workshops towards the end of exams so more participants and volunteers can join.

Tell us something memorable that’s happened to you whilst being a Project Leader?

From our recent workshop with Outward, the guest speaker shared how he supported a woman who was being toxic in a relationship. After building a rapport with the woman, the guest speaker asked the woman to send toxic text messages to him a day before she wanted to send those to her partner. By having this 24-hour gap, the woman was able to reflect upon her actions and ponder over why she had been toxic to her partner. The guest speaker shared this story to illustrate that we can’t really support those who are reluctant to receive support, and how building rapport is important in mental health.

Taking a step back, I think this also applies to discussions on mental health and culture – we can’t really “force” those who don’t want to talk about mental health to talk about it. But what we can do is to offer a safe space for those who want to talk about it, so they can learn about others’ perspective and initiate conversations on this topic with those around them. In this way, small ripples can be transformed into huge waves, allowing more and more individuals to open up about their experiences with mental health.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone thinking about being a Project Leader?

When you have an idea, browse the SLP directory first. If a SLP doesn’t already exist, attend information sessions about volunteering (which usually happen at the beginning of the academic year) or find some peers to run the project with you. Afterwards, brainstorm with your team about innovative ways to run your project and ponder over how your project can assist your beneficiaries. Don’t forget that the SLP team and your supervisor are there to support you on your way.

Want to start your own Student-led Volunteering Project? Find out more and share your ideas with us here!