The Pursuit of Happiness: Wise words from a Welfare Officer

Elsa Maishman 2 May 2015

I am the current Female Welfare Officer for Emmanuel (distinct at Emma from the Women’s Officer). College welfare systems are hugely important in putting on events to reduce stress, as well as providing information regarding where to find the right advice and help. At Emma, the Male Welfare Officer and I have organised, among other things, free mindfulness classes and weekly yoga, which we hope will have a lasting impact in helping students to develop skills to manage stress to find the necessary headspace to deal with problems.

We’re trying to have events spread throughout the Michelmas and Lent terms, to reduce the focus on just Week Five. For Easter term, we’ve got lots planned: everything from fun-filled afternoons on a bouncy castle to visits from guide dog puppies. As well as event organisers, we’re information providers. To make students more aware of the services available to them, at college, university and national levels, we’ve made contact cards with many important details on, and are trying to increase awareness of the Student Advice Service.

Sometimes I act as a listening ear for fellow students, mainly friends, to talk over what’s bothering them. Everyone has their own problems – I hear about insomnia, phobias, excessive tiredness, and depression, among other things. We really just want people to realise that they’re not alone. Mental health is a topic often avoided, but this avoidance is part of the problem because in the darkness of silence, things grow. During my GCSEs I was suffering from some sort of combination of depression / an eating disorder / a panic disorder. Labels aren’t important though; the bottom line is that I felt unhappy, out of control, and alone.

I just wished there had been someone back then to reassure me. That’s the main reason why I ran for Welfare Officer: to be that person now, for other people. Particularly within the modern culture of ‘banter’, I feel we underestimate how important all those little compliments and reassurances are. To counter this, I’ve started a new venture called ‘Wonderful Person of the Week’. Every week students at Emma contact me privately to nominate whomever they like. I then post these nominations anonymously on Facebook, for example, ‘X is an incredibly caring friend’. Only nominees know when they’ve been nominated, and one nominee is randomly selected every week to receive a goodie bag. It’s not about ranking wonderfulness, instead more about sharing the love in college. Numerous people have said that those nominations have made their day. That’s why I do what I do: to help brighten people’s days. If you don’t brighten someone’s day, who’s to say that another person will?