As some of you may be aware, the title of this blog has a double meaning. It is my guild’s pet name for Elemental Shamans, and it is a direct reference to ‘mental health’. Now I’m not going to get down and dirty on my problems here, nor am I going to use it as an excuse for my behaviour (in-game, on blogs, on chat rooms.) I am still a normal human being, and like any human being I have my doldrums and my good days, my minor annoyances and my soul-destroy despair. Having to deal with my mental health does not make me in any way special or unique. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are at the very least experiencing severe depression.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 adults are experiencing a diagnosable condition at any one time. In a guild of about 100 adults (like my own, for example) there is a possibility that at least 15 of us with a mental health condition (disease? Illness?) at anyone time. In my time as an officer I have had to deal with guild members with extreme problems, and as I have had to deal with an increasingly ‘adult’ life, I’ve had to learn to deal with and manage my stress. As a family member of someone with a severe bipolar disorder, I’ve had to deal with the real life stigma all my life. I will post more on this topic, but I want to start out by posting a reminder to guild masters and guild agony aunts:
Other people’s problems are not your responsibility
A common internet phenomena (at least I’ve observed it frequently, it may well not be that common) the use of online communities as support networks. In some cases this is no surprise, many forums and internet groups are set up specifically as a support network for people undergoing similar experiences to each other. However many people, intentionally or not, will use other communities for this purpose – fandoms, creative writing, and WoW. For a lot of raiding guilds, which will approach the game on the basis of consistent performance, the mental health of an applicant isn’t an issue until it make that person an unreliable raider. However in a social or casual guild, the mental health of guild members can play a huge role in the dynamics of a guild.
And the trap an officer/guild agony aunt/guild master will fall into is trying to help everybody. It is natural, especially if the guild culture is based on mutual trust and respect. After being in the same guild as someone for 2 years, it is common to see guild members as another ‘sort of’ friend. Couple that with the normal people-managing and conflict-resolving responsibilities of a GM, and it is very easy to end up in a counselling role for someone with extreme mental health difficulties. I did it myself, in fact, because I am human and I empathise.
Right. Rambling again. I do have a point, I promise.
It is very easy to get wrapped up in the personal problems of a guild member. Try to remember this: You are not a professional counsellor, you are not a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a psychoanalyst, and even if you are; WoW is not the right place to try to conduct therapy (and the professionals I do know, do know better and gave me this exact advise.) As a guild member and a guild officer, or a GM, your responsibility is to the guild as a community. As a whole, not to ‘save’ an individual. You are not responsible for an individual’s self-destructive actions, but you are responsible for not letting it disrupt the peace of the community in general more than the other members are comfortable with.
But what about understanding?
Mental Health concerns are widely misunderstood and stigmatised. A great example is how mental illness is used to dehumanise characters in films, something discussed by Glenn Close. There is the risk for anyone with a disorder that they will be treated differently by their guild members if they ‘come out’. Perhaps guildies will end up watching them closely, and see any sign of irritation or grumpy as a signal that a person is about to ‘snap’. Perhaps guild members end up cutting that person so much slack that it ends up being an accepted excuse for imposing on guild members with anti-social behaviour.
What you can do, as a concerned acquaintance, is go away and educate yourself. Learn about insensitive, ableist language. If you run an RP guild (or community), have a think about how players in your guild represent mental illness in their roleplay. Do they trivialize or glamorize disorders? This is not to say you need to stamp down on every person who wants to roleplay a character with a disability, but that you need to learn to be aware of the nuances of these things. Understanding mental illness certainly does not mean shutting down every attempt at exploration or discussion of such.
Sometimes all the sensitivity in the world will not stop a long valued guild member from turning around and lashing out at their fellow guildies for what seems like the most petty thing. It happens. There is no way you or they can control every variable that has an impact on their control or mood, and sometimes there is no way to prevent a conflict. Sometimes you just have to accept that you cannot help everyone, no matter how educated or sensitive you are, or how good the relationship generally is.
What is the way forward?
I have no easy answer. If a guild member has a long-standing mental illness, perhaps guild culture (and you) have already learned to adjust, and to accept the difficulties without judgement. I can’t even begin to get into the minefield that is ‘Warcraft Addiction as a Mental Illness’ in this post, nor the difficulties of ableist language in a multi-lingual environment.
I am still learning my way around the language of mental health, the correct/incorrect terms to use on the internet. It is not something I discuss widely in my everyday life, except with my family. I am still in the process of learning the issues surrounding mental health and online communication, so if you have resources you would like to point me at, please feel free. I am intending to write about my personal experiences, and be as candid as I can.