After losing a friend to a suicide, Help4Friend founder Taras Lanchev recognised a problem in how people help their friends handle and talk about mental wellbeing issues.
Taras, a Tech Nation Visa scheme alumnus who also founded scheduling platform Calbot and helps run Startup Weekend Leeds, assembled a team of volunteers and started a project at the University of Leeds to tackle the problem. Help4Friend was born.
We spoke to Taras to find out more.
What’s the story of Help4Friend?
Taras Lanchev: After losing a friend to a suicide a few years ago I realised that there is a problem in the way our friends handle and talk about mental wellbeing issues.
Nobody really knows what to do if a friend comes to you and tell you that they are going through a tough time. In fact, not many people really know what tough times are for people because they differ from person to person and people don’t normally talk about theirs.
I reached out to a number of professionals who research or work in the mental wellbeing field to see what they have to say about it and a lot of them confirmed that people don’t know what signals to look for and how to handle those tough times. It’s a taboo.
And so, I got together a team of volunteers and decided to start a project at the University of Leeds. I chose UoL because this is where I studied and I wanted to focus on 1 location and 1 university at the start. This allowed us to work on a smaller scale and tailor the project directly to the students at the university.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Not many students know the warning signs of mental wellbeing issues and even fewer know what to do if their friend is experiencing them. We educate the students at the University of Leeds about the warning signs and what to do about them. One in five adults in the UK struggle with mental wellbeing issues and 25% of those don’t have anybody to turn to for help.
In researching this topic, we went out and spoke to people and the picture painted itself. People told us what they didn’t like about current mental wellbeing projects – including tons of unnecessary info, complicated language and little practical advice – and guides weren’t aimed at support groups. We then addressed that.
We then went back to those end-users again and asked them what they thought. They gave us more feedback and we went back to change the website again. It was a very iterative process with a lot of input from people who would end up using the service.
Help4Friend’s front page sets out its focus
How does Help4Friend stand out from similar services?
I think we offer a much simpler and much more tailored service to the students at the university. They don’t have to go through tons of material to find what they need. Plus, our guides are tailored specifically at the students who support their friends during tough times. This isn’t something many other projects focus on.
What’s your investment journey to date?
We are bootstrapped and aren’t planning to raise any capital – all the capital we have has come from volunteers and founders. This is very much a community-driven project with people inputting their skills, time, effort and knowledge into it. Nobody wants to be paid for it.
Despite that, and with no money spent on marketing and advertising we have recently passed 2,300 unique monthly visitors on our website. And this is during the summer when there are no students in the city! It’s great.
What’s on the horizon for Help4friend?
For now, we are planning to stay in Leeds. We want to expand to cover other universities in the city and create other ways to engage the students. For example, we have a video which summarises the warning signs of mental wellbeing issues and we want to negotiate with the university so that they play it during induction weeks.
We also want to engage freshers in their first-year accommodations by providing them with posters and flyers in their living-room areas at the start of the year. I think this will have a massive impact on the project.
This is a steady, step-by-step process, but we want to work with all the stakeholders involved so that we get it right.
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