Happiness is Hear to Listen
Marie Cooke, PhD; Steve Kelly, PhD; Mark Setton, DPhil., Anthony Arciero, PhD; Paul Desan, MD, PhD
Launch of the Listeners
It is no big secret that, following the onslaught of Covid-19, 30-50% of university students around the world have experienced an episode of “disabling emotional turmoil” over the past academic year. In response to the crisis, an innovative student-powered project at Strathclyde University in Glasgow aimed at student wellbeing called “Hear to Listen” was launched. The intervention aimed at boosting psychological wellbeing through a hybrid approach, combining a brief online training with an onsite peer support program.
Beyond expectation, more than 150 Strathclyde students from 36 countries volunteered to be “Listeners.” Sporting logos on their clothing, which indicated that the wearer was “Hear to Listen” (yes, that’s exactly how it was spelt) the students were trained to “actively listen” to fellow students experiencing emotional turmoil or who simply needed to talk to someone. They also provided “signposting” to campus support services as well as some fun “Happy Hour” activities, such as board games, arts and crafts etc. As it turned out, the simple act of lending an empathic ear, responding supportively, and providing students with a range of options, often worked wonders.
Marie Cooke, Coordinator of the pilot “Hear to Listen” Program at Strathclyde’s Student Union, used an online asynchronous course on the science of wellbeing to train the student volunteers, as well as training on “active listening,” and conducted ongoing coordination of activities. The online course provided science-based insights into 7 correlates of psychological wellbeing including relationships, meaning and purpose, flow, strengths and virtues, kindness, positive mindset, as well as physiological aspects of wellbeing (diet, exercise, sleep, and sunlight).
Throughout the year, Listeners received email reminders – one for each module in the course – that included a short video from the course and a “challenge” that students could use to apply the principles of psychological wellbeing in their daily lives.
The Listeners met regularly and scheduled their own shifts during which they would meet with students around campus, at the student union, or online in Zoom drop-in sessions. Marie met individually with the one hundred and fifty Listeners who volunteered over the course of the academic year, getting to know each one.
…”As the semester has progressed, I’ve felt more motivated to be a Listener, since I’m aware of the positive impact that the project has had on students that have used it. Current events have also led to more distress in the general student population, so I’m motivated to do my best to help the people who need someone to talk to.”
– Student Listener.
“Happy Hour” reinvented
The volunteers developed a strong sense of camaraderie and decided that they didn’t simply want to wait for students in need to approach, instead they decided to be more proactive, by regularly offering “Happy Hours.” This involved a whole range of activities led by the Listener volunteers, including board games, leisurely walks around campus, yoga, origami, embroidery and various crafts. These activities reportedly reinforced relationships between the volunteers as well as with fellow students. By developing meaningful relationships, getting involved in “Flow” activities, and reaching out to other people at critical times in their lives, the Listeners were enacting many of the principles of psychological wellbeing described in the course.
“Volunteering and helping people with their wellbeing brings me joy and improves my own wellbeing.”
– Student Listener.
A key aspect of the program was Dr. Marie Cooke. It was her initiative that began the partnership with PoH. She recruited the students, supported and encouraged them, and managed the day-to-day affairs of the Hear to Listen program. Although only employed part-time, she volunteered the extra hours needed to attend regular support sessions, onsite and online, to encourage the Listeners’ team. At the end of the year, Dr. Cooke organized an awards ceremony for the Listeners and invited Kaukab Stewart, Member of Scottish Parliament (MSB), to convene the meeting. Kaukab, who is Deputy Head of the Committee on Education, Children and Young People, handed out awards to each of the listeners as well as (reportedly) delicious cakes produced by the students in the shape of Gaelic Caim circles, which symbolize safety and protection.