Dr Hugo Layard Horsfall juggles work as an academic foundation doctor at Cambridge University with a passion project he launched while still an undergraduate – a non-profit organisation called Happy Space, which aims to help young people manage the transition from school to university, giving them the skills they need to cope with times of change and stress.
'We realised when leaving school that, as much information as there is out there, if you haven't been exposed to learning about mental health it can be difficult to know how to find the tools we need. We wanted to empower young people to develop a positive mindset that would see them through their journey from school to university, and beyond.'
Hugo founded Happy Space in 2014 with two childhood friends, Tegan Creedy and Nader Dehdashti, both equally passionate about mental wellbeing, balanced lifestyles and finding one's purpose.
'Mental health is being talked about a lot right now, and rightly so – but when we started out, it felt like it was much less common to be openly speaking about it. So we set out with the aim of helping students ask and answer the question, 'Why don't I feel OK?'
Happy Space is a collaborative effort, publishing guide books for distribution at schools and universities at the start of the academic year. The books cover five topics the team has identified as essential for a balanced, happy lifestyle – mind, body, food, finance and arts – and feature guidance and opinion pieces from experts in each of these fields. Supporters and contributors have included sleep coach Nick Littlehales, who has worked with British Cycling and Manchester United football clubs, Stephen Fry, Dame Kelly Holmes and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington. The team also hosts fundraising events, takes part in talks at schools and colleges, and will soon run an annual Happy Space Day for college students.
'Peer-to-peer communication is so important in spreading our message,' Hugo says. 'Mental health has never been more important than it is now – particularly for medical students, considering the alarming statistics around depression and suicide among junior doctors.
We want everyone to understand the sources of their stress and know how they can feel supported.
'We think it's really important to help young people deal with change and transition; to help them form good habits, be conscientious, and to understand when things aren't quite right and how to address this. We want everyone to understand the sources of their stress and know how they can feel supported.
'Change is good, but transition is hard. It can help to know what questions to ask yourself – do I need to schedule a weekly phone call with my parents? Who can I ask for help with my finances? How can I fit exercise into my day when things get busy? Through our guidebooks and social media channels, we want to help answer those questions and offer techniques for times when someone might be feeling lost, lonely and unable to cope.'
As the Happy Space community continues to grow, there are plans in the works to create a physical space for hosting talks and events, as well as expanding the team nationally to cover more ground and reach even more students and universities.
'The response to our work so far has been so positive – people are reaching out to us,' Hugo says. 'And it's rewarding working on something with such purpose and encouraging collaboration between people who feel the same.'
Find out more about Happy Space on their website, Facebook or follow them on Twitter.