Elspeth was a fundraiser and peer volunteer

My journey began in 2019 when I saw that Health in Mind were looking for fundraising volunteers to collect money during the Edinburgh Festivals. My own mental health history had given me a strong desire to support a relevant charity and I love to extract money out of tourists, so it was a win-win situation. During my introduction to Health in Mind I found out about peer work: a chance to use my lived experience of mental health struggles and recovery to support and empower others – sign me up!

The training to be a peer support volunteer was thorough, thought-provoking and actually a bit fun. There was a small group of us learning side-by-side, sharing experiences and practising our listening skills on one another. My fellow peer support trainees were lovely, empathetic people and I knew I had found a special community.

After my training I started volunteering one-to-one with a person who was experiencing anxiety and depression just as I had and, sometimes, still do. It felt good to connect with someone who knew I understood what she was going through. No two experiences of mental illness are the same but there is a mutual understanding between peers that is unsurpassable.

I think there is sometimes concern that a person with lived experience of mental health struggles will reopen wounds if they talk about it. For me, it is quite the opposite. Relating to others and self reflection allow me to keep on top of my mental health. Engaging in peer work helps me see how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learnt about myself and things I can still improve.

The first person I supported gradually stopped turning up to sessions. This was disappointing and, of course, a source of self doubt. Had I done really badly? It was a valuable lesson in letting someone go. It wasn’t my fault, it was just the natural ending.

Next stop on my journey was the 5 Day Peer Work Course run by The Peer Community. I would recommend this highly to anyone Edinburgh-based that is interested in peer work. The course reinforced things I knew, taught me fresh facts and invited me to think about things in a different way. Once again I was learning alongside a group of lovely people which made the experience even more valuable. Luckily, we completed the course just before lockdown and I had endless, jobless months to complete my PDA in Mental Health Peer Support. I still managed to procrastinate quite a bit but I achieved it in the end. Got a certificate and everything.

In the autumn of 2020 I decided I fancied a change and asked to switch from one-to-one support to group peer work. I did a bit of training through Zoom with my new manager and quickly felt ready to join in. It is no lie to say that co-facilitating the Anxiety and Depression Group is often the highlight of a week. It is magical to witness people supporting each other in an honest, empathic and often funny way. Even through Zoom and the often persistent lockdown feeling of doom, the connection and hope of peer work is still there.

All of these amazing opportunities and the wonderful people I’ve linked with have led me to the job I now have as a Thrive Peer Worker. I work as part of a multi-disciplinary Welcome Team; using my experiences of mental health to help others and to help shape the new Thrive model in Edinburgh.

Elspeth is now one of Edinburgh’s new Thrive Welcome Team Workers. You can find out more about Thrive Edinburgh on their website.