Helping others has helped ease my depression
Emma blogs about how fundraising has made her feel more positive about life and helped her cope with depression.
Emma is studying Arabic and French at the University of Edinburgh, with a love of travel, cooking and feminism.
For the past academic year I was lucky enough to be the president of RAG (Raising & Giving societies are student-run charitable fundraising organisations) at Edinburgh University. This was a demanding role which brought with it a fair amount of stress.
Add into that a challenging degree of Arabic and French, chronic depression and anxiety, and you might think that I took on too much. But I believe my time spent fundraising for charities such as Mind and working to help others struggling had a positive impact on my mental health.
"Joining RAG meant I focused on the needs of others, and allowed me to empathise with people suffering."
I am definitely a high functioning depressive and filling my time with work and activities has always been my way of dealing with how I feel – primarily by ignoring those negative feelings. Before I started my volunteering with RAG, I could successfully mask my low points until I was alone, but would then have a breakdown, with all my emotions overwhelming. However, joining RAG meant I focused on the needs of others. This allowed me to empathise with people suffering – it was actually extremely cathartic. No matter how rubbish I felt I knew I had to leave the house to go to a meeting because if I didn’t, these people who desperately needed funds wouldn’t get them.
From my experience, another positive of student fundraising groups is the community you foster. My friends from RAG are some of the most supportive and brilliant people I know and they certainly helped me even on my worst days. The skills I learnt through student fundraising have given me so much more confidence, and led to me heading up campaigns to improve mental health at my university. Without the background in understanding how to engage people both in person and on paper, I would never have been able to do the things I have done since RAG.
"Fundraising gave me a positive reason to get out of bed, and a motivation to keep working even when the world felt black."
There is also nothing better for the soul, than the gratitude you receive from charities you’ve helped. It's a warm feeling in your stomach that can't be beaten. Whenever I feel low now I just think of the kind words I received from the people who benefitted from our work. Fundraising gave me a reason to get out of bed, and a motivation to keep working even when the world felt black.
University can be a difficult place when you're struggling with mental health. It can often feel like everyone else has their life and studies together and you don’t. It can feel like the world is so big and scary that nothing will ever change. For me RAG gave me hope that we can make the world a better place. Being surrounded by people who chose to spend a cold day in Edinburgh outside with buckets asking passers-by for money, over a hungover day spent on the sofa with snacks, is one of the most uplifting things I have ever experienced.
One moment that will never leave me is when I had one of my lowest days, after having to cancel one of our major events due to the “Beast from the East.” We had huge quantities of snacks left, and nearly all of my amazing committee gave up their day to walk 40 minutes in the snow and ice to a church housing the homeless, so we could donate the food.
Fundraising can give us a way out of the darkness. It gave me the ability to forget about how I was feeling sometimes and help someone else who needed me. If you struggle with your mental health I would recommend with all my heart finding some way you can give back. I often felt like I took so much from the world because I always needed help. RAG let me repay those who had helped me by helping others.
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