Over time, our community has become more open to discussing mental illness. Through disclosure, we’re able to admit that many of us live with a mental illness, and act as an international peer support network for each other. At our best, gamers are an incredible community, and pulling together to support people through their mental illness is one of the best things we can do.
For everyone out there who is just starting to get help, and those who have just had a friend disclose a mental illness, this week’s installment is for you. No matter where you are along the way, you are more than welcome to read this.
You Are Not Alone
The National Institute for Mental Health in the United States maintains a guage of population percentage that may at any time meet the criteria for mental illness. There’s a little bit about that here, and the NIMH website in general is a good factual resource about current understanding of a variety of mental illnesses. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a lot of information about mental illnesses, and can point you towards resources in your local area.
You are not alone. There are a lot of people with mental illness out there, and many of them are willing to offer support, advice, or a friendly ear. There are so many people who receive short or long-term treatment, and it improves their lives. Whatever decisions you make about how your life and approach to your illness is, there will be people who can and will support you. There are local and national resources to help you. There are hotlines, peer support networks, therapy options, and a lot of doctors whose only concern is to get you to feeling healthy and stable. When it comes to how this effects being in the gaming community? How and why it does will be unique to you. When and if you disclose a mental illness is ultimately up to you. There are a number of people in our community who have experience with mental illness, and there are a few things that are important to remember right now.
- You are not alone.
- There are resources out there for you, and people who want to help you find them.
- You may be scared to get help, and that’s a very normal fear. If you have to take time to build your strength to get help, that’s okay. Slow steps forward are still progress.
- If you ever feel like you are actively in crisis and a danger to yourself or others, tell someone. Ask someone you trust to help you get to a hospital; you can even call a crisis line or other emergency service. Whatever you do, take yourself seriously. You know yourself better than anyone. If you think you’ve hit a breaking point, get help.
- One more thing: you’re not bad. You are not broken, dented, dinged, dirty, unclean, or somehow inferior. You have an illness. It being a mental illness doesn’t mean it’s somehow lesser than a ‘real’ disease. A mental illness is a very real condition. It doesn’t mean you deserve anything but to be treated with humanity and decency.
They Told You Because They Trust You
If someone has disclosed a mental illness to you, it may feel overwhelming at first. If you don’t know anyone else with a mental illness, you might not know where to start learning more or how to help them. NAMI isn’t just a good place to search out support and resources for your friend—they want to support you, too. Being caring and emotionally available for someone else may exhaust you emotionally, and NAMI has a lot of suggestions of ways to help yourself as well. They may want you to know so they can get it off their chest, to have someone to talk to—each person has a unique reason for sharing. They might tell you that they don’t want to talk about it again, or they may ask if they can confide in you regularly about their illness. Again, everyone will have their own needs and approach. Those needs can change over time. No matter what, there are some things you can do to be supportive.
- Disclosing a mental illness can be terrifying. It may have taken them a lot of energy to tell you, so thank them for telling you, and trusting you.
- Listen to them. Letting them talk without interrupting about a study you saw or a fact you spotted on television is a huge show of mature support. Whenever they disclose, or even become public about their illness, people will interrupt them, send them articles, and ask questions all the time.
- Try not to make assumptions. Many mental illnesses are portrayed inaccurately in fictional and non-fiction media. Do your best to put aside biases and focus on the essentials: your friend has an illness, has told you about it, and trusts you enough to let you know.
- Whether you become a long-term form of love and support, or are simply quietly informed, you may have questions or feelings of exhaustion. You are not their therapist or doctor, and you don’t have to be. Respect your limits, and take yourself to a therapist, doctor, or other support figure. We can’t help anyone if we don’t help us some, too.
- Last, but not least: you should not think you have to save them. No one, not even a doctor, has to save them. But doctors, therapists, nurses, clergy and friends can try to help. Helping people means respecting their agency as a human being, and giving them the tools to keep living.
I’ve Been There
I was diagnosed with PTSD at 17, the same year I attempted suicide. I’ve been diagnosed with other mental illnesses since then. There are days where I struggle a lot more than others. There are countless little things I do to keep me on track, functional, and alive. I’ve done cognitive therapy, taken medications, seen doctors, gone to support groups. I’m still here because my family, friends, loved ones and doctors helped me get to this point.
Wherever you are, you are not alone.
The resources I’ve linked to are based in the United States of America. If you have other resources you’d like to share, in any country, please do so in the comments. Mental illness is everywhere, but so are resources. If we share them with each other, more of us have a better chance. I am not a licensed therapist or care provider, but you’re welcome to e-mail me if you would like to talk about your experiences with someone who has been there.