July 16th, 2024

‘Excuses to Connect’ seeks to improve student mental health

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on February 16, 2023.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Excuses to Connect founder Richard Lee-Thai works to create connections among students to improve their mental health.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

A graduate from the University of Lethbridge is the founder of Excuses to Connect and is consulting with the university on how to create connections for students to improve their mental health.

Excuses to Connect started as a topic for a TedEx talk that Richard Lee-Thai had the opportunity to give in Calgary. The topic came to him after reflecting on his life and realizing he felt lonely growing up and was craving connections, which intensified once he moved from Calgary to Lethbridge to attend university as it was difficult to create connections in a place where he did not know anyone.

Excuses to Connect then became a business where Lee-Thai offers his services as a connection coach. He supports individuals and organizations with building social confidence.

Lee-Thai said that after graduating from the U of L, he still had many connections to the university and while visiting the campus last month, he was told about the R.E.C rooms initiative which stands for Refresh, Energize and Connect to help students with their mental health.

“When the university shared with me that they wanted to launch this initiative, my mind started running because those are excuses to connect, and since I have so many ideas and also connection research to back them up, I shared them with the university as a proposal to be a mental and social health outreach coordinator, which is focused on promoting students social and mental health,” said Lee-Thai.

He said he will be in that role until the end of April.

In defining social health he said it could be defined as the dimension of well-being that comes from connection and community. He said he got the definition from a researcher named Kasley Killam.

“I came across the term through her and I loved it because we talk about physical and mental health all the time, but there is still this whole dimension that we don’t discuss which is social health,” said Lee-Thai.

He said there a lot of information and resources on how to stay healthy physically and mentally exists but there is not enough on how to create meaningful connections, which are just as important to the well-being of a person as a whole.

“Growing up there wasn’t a class on how to make friends, or how to be confident, how to set healthy boundaries in your relationships with people, and because there is that lack of education I think that is a large contributor of why students are feeling lonely and disconnected,” said Lee-Thai.

He said one of the key things he wants to implement in his role is to design and implement a social health strategy for the campus.

“As far as I know, no other campus has social health strategy, but I feel like I am uniquely positioned to be able to design something like that,” said Lee-Thai.

He said he will be overseeing the REC rooms but also wants to create a student guide for social health.

“I want to show them that it’s OK to feel lonely and they are not the only ones experiencing it, and what they can do about it. Because ultimately social skill is like any other skill, if you practice you can get better at it,” said Lee-Thai.

He said he would also be providing students with practical skills on how they can start a conversation with people.

“For example, using your five senses, what do you see, what do you hear, what do you smell, what do you taste, and you can use that as your excuse to connect,” said Lee-Thai.

He said one of the good things about the REC rooms is that they create a gathering space for a specific activity in which he has witnessed students asking others to play ping-pong whom they have never met before.

Lee-Thai said he hopes that anyone reading this article use it as an excuse to connect.

“I always like to connect with new people, so you are welcome to reach out to me through social media or on my website excusestoconnect.ca and tell met you read this article and we can connect. This is an open invitation to have an excuse to connect,” said Lee-Thai.

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