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Mental health Support and First Aid for communities (Gaming)

Hello and thank you for taking the time to read this, this guide is to support people in being part of or organising communities and it could really save or change someones life. I know following these practices has certainly done that for Herefordshire Board Gamers.

I am not an expert or qualified in any of this, I am passionate and experienced but not qualified beyond a mental health first aid course but we’ve put a lot of thought into this! This is a living guide we will work to get it improved, qualified and keep growing it. I would love feedback, examples specifically.

The guide will be focus on advice for games clubs but will grow to include more generic examples.
Short link here

Please seek professional help and support resources here Mental Health Resources – Here for Games Knowledge

Why communities are important:

There are various articles on the benefits of gaming to keep the brain active, and to encourage social skills and learning and I hope we all agree gaming is good for our mental health. Communities play a huge part too, now more so than ever.

 A good community will help with the Love / Belonging and Esteem stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It doesn’t’ matter what the hobby is but having some you can enjoy, practice, a shared interest with like minded people. Ideally the community will support, recognise your skills and talents and even empower you to give back, building on your self esteem and status.

More on Maslow’s

Tockwith Church of England Primary Academy » Compass Buzz Mental ...

Viewing the 5 ways to mental wellbeing model, communities, hobbies and gaming fits in perfectly. Communities allow you to partake in things you enjoy, learn and grow by doing. Good communities let you give back in some way if only to other members.

As you read the guide, please take from it what you can and link the tips back to these two graphics and how it fits in to the bigger picture. We’d love any feedback, examples or suggestions, this is a living document we can improve together.

What is mental health

Mental health is a state of well being in which we individual realise our own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and be able to contribute to our own community

Mental health is the same as physical health and is a sliding scale (continuum) from well to unwell and everyone moves along it on a daily or even hourly basis and has their own normal. Mental health can be managed in the same way as physical health, exercise, diet and prescribed drugs.

Mental ill health/mental illness are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

There are many different areas to mental health and not all of them are noticeable.  Some are listed below:
•Stress •Anxiety •Fear •Panic Attacks •Depression •Bipolar Disorder •Post Traumatic Stress •Eating Disorders

Step one: Build your culture, open listening

Build your culture to be open, support and honest.  Support people in talking and demonstrate you can listen.  Foster a positive culture which doesn’t ‘punch down’ when encourages people to talk about sensitive topics without fear of ridicule.

Step two: Look out for each other and react

One of the main signs of Mental health issues or changes in mental health welling being. Is a change in personality. Keep an eye out for changes, and then do something, don’t hope or rely someone else will. 

Step three: Support diversity and grow

Listen to your members, build your community to support as many of them as you can. Different personality types, abilities, budgets, time and dozen other things, will define what your members want. It is very easy to make the community in your image. Try to listen to what people want, and push yourself to run things which aren’t your usual, you never know you may learn from it or perhaps even enjoy it.

Step four: Learn and enable

Research yourself, share or publish your knowledge. Review what you are doing as a community, challenge the normal sometimes, times are changing keep adapting.

The detail:

Step one: Build your culture, open listening

Rules.. boring but they set the standards for existing members and the tone for new members. Lead by example and enforce the rules. Having clear rules may well be the differences been a member joining or not.

The rules we operate by are positive and give examples / reasons rather than a list of what can’t shouldn’t be done. We have a positivity rule and this includes some unusual example we give permissions for players to ask to leave games they are not enjoying. I’ve seen charters which forbid leaving games in progress. Lots of games support it but why would anyone force someone to continue anything they don’t enjoy, plus a player not having fun can detract from the whole game experience.

Actively develop opportunities for conversation and listening. Where that is dedicated gaming sessions for lighter games which support more chatter. Perhaps actually check in with the players and ask how they are (and actually listen) Perhaps a dedicated area for chatting and not playing game.

Running public check ins, and promoting talking about mental health and well being set the standards about talking about topics like mental health and even permitting off topic conversations which are valuable. Within your community make space for all types of people and personalities.

Here is our code of conduct. Code of conduct

Step two: Look out for each other and react

The most important thing is to keep an eye on each other and watch for behavioural changes, such as if a regular stops attending, a usually happy, cheerful person becomes more negative or a quiet person suddenly becomes louder or the bubbly person withdrawn. These are key indicators something has changed. It may be nothing but a reaching out may really help.

If you are worried about someone’s mental health and believe they may be suicidal, ask for their address, so should the worst happen you can call an ambulance. If you can’t maintain a register of address as a society ensure smaller groups of friends are enabled to support each other and have each other addresses.

Don’t be frightened to ask if people are ok. In the current online world it is easier than ever to quietly check in on people. If you are seriously worried about someone, ask them if they are safe. If someone is suicidal or in a bad place asking if they are safe won’t make it worse and will definitely help as they know someone cares and wants to listen.

If someone is suicidal or in a bad place asking if they are safe won’t make it worse

If you do find someone in crisis, ALGEE is a great acronym for mental health first aid.
Assess risk
Listen non-judgmentally
Give reassurance and information
Encourage appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Make sure you actually listen to the person.  Be careful to not belittle their experience. It’s very tempting to offer examples or comparisons from your own life but try not to do this as it can take the focus of them and make it about you or others the person in crisis needs to be listened to right now. Show you are listening by rephrasing what they are telling you.

Even mental health first aiders aren’t experts and there are excellent courses on this which I recommend you do, Be aware of your limitations and own well being.The main advice is to support and sign post to additional help like GPs. In emergencies get help immediately. Don’t promise confidentiality as you may have to betray their trust.

Longer term do check in with the person, mental health like physical health can come and go quickly or slowly.

Step three: Support and grow

Empower people. If someone wants to run a quiz, or a tournament support them if you can. Let them run their passion projects.  They will likely enjoy it and give them an outlet. This can help take the load off the organisers and provide a wider range of events. Try to remember a games group shouldn’t be a mirror of your exact taste.

Sometimes party games like Sussed or other ‘would you rather? / what would you choose? type of games can be great icebreakers and allow you to learn more about each other and let deeper conversations occur naturally. Keep this optional as this won’t be for everyone.

Remember everyone is different and has different needs. Introverts vs extroverts. Those who prefer lighter games or heavier games.  High energy vs exhausted by the time they arrive at games night. Be supportive, non-judgemental and mix up the type of games you play. Think about doing quizzes and video games as well. 

When supporting your friends and family think about the environment. Dragging your introvert friend who is struggling to a busy and noisy pub may not work, whereas inviting them to a quiet park may. Pubs may not work for people with substance issues.

When empowering people, it is important to make sure they have the support structure to help them, so perhaps make sure your code of conduct is up to date and there is a clear escalation and communication path.

Step Four:  Learn and enable

As a community collate mental health resources including national and local services, this will useful in a crisis and publishing even as a pinned post on your social media shows you are aware  and supportive, the list of resources alone could really help someone. This shows you are paying attention and further builds on your culture.

This should be a continue step, review your resource guides, your rules, what your community does.


Important Step: Active Listening.

A lot of mental health first aid is common sense, but a lot of empathetic, problem solvers, i.e. the type of people who become mental health first aiders find active listening hard. We want to jump in with a solution and sympathize. It’s very important to active listen, make sure the person you are supporting is the centre of your attention and listen.

Key resources
MHFA England

Mental health resources
Mental Health Resources – Here for Games Knowledge

It is worth being mindful of the difference between Empathy and Sympathy
Brené Brown on Empathy vs Sympathy – YouTube

Remember to look after yourself too!