Faris, December 1, 2020

Reaching out to a friend or talking about what you’re going through can help open the door for someone else to express how they’re really feeling.

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Like many, the pandemic has negatively impacted my mental health. The isolation, along with the gravity of the situation, brought on a sense of panic and helplessness. I’ve felt stuck, living in a world where time no longer seems to exist. The only benefit of limitless time which I’ve found is the opportunity to pinpoint the causes of my anxiety and work through those. But it hasn’t been easy.

Doing the same things every day and spending more time alone has been hard, so it’s been really important for me to maintain a sense of community. Most of the socialising I do is while I’m gaming. Whether I’m playing Fortnite or tuning into a Twitch stream, gaming has been a tremendous way for me to stay connected to the outside world.

Since the pandemic hit, I’ve noticed a couple of big changes in the gaming world. The first is that the community is growing rapidly. Some of the most popular games right now are PC games. They’re easy and accessible, so lockdown has brought a fresh wave of players looking for something to do while they are stuck at home.

Secondly, it feels like the existing community is becoming much more aware of mental health. It seems everyone has been impacted in some way, whether they’ve experienced something themselves or someone close to them has. Gamers appear to be more tuned in to each other’s feelings and what’s happening around them right now.

For many, gaming creates a virtual space to talk. Of course, people are there to game, but you also find lots of people just want to hang out and chat with someone while they’re playing.

Sometimes the game is just a backdrop for a much-needed conversation.

I recently made friends with a guy over Xbox. He was very quiet. He didn’t speak over his headset at all, but I liked playing with him and I think he appreciated spending time with me. One night, when we were gaming together with another friend of mine,  I started talking about how tired I was. I'd had some trouble sleeping, and I shared some of the things which were keeping me awake at night. This led to me and my friend having a chat about our mental health - that’s when I first heard this guy speak.

He told us he could relate to what we were saying and shared his story. We’d been playing together for about two months, but he’d never talked before, let alone open up like that. By showing our vulnerability, I think he realised it was OK to show us his. Together, we created a safe environment to talk through our problems and support each other.

I think some men find it difficult to open up about their feelings. I grew up in care with a really supportive foster family, surrounded by inspiring women and men, so I’ve always felt comfortable expressing my feelings, freely sharing my insecurities. I’ve never judged myself for just being me, but I’ve certainly been judged by other men. I’ve been called out for the way I dress and the way I talk, but what I learned early on is that these insults were just a reflection of those men’s insecurities.

All these avatars and usernames anonymise us, which can sometimes help men to feel more comfortable and share their stories without fear of judgment. However, these features simultaneously dehumanise people. It’s easy to forget we’re all going through stuff sometimes.

We all have our own struggles, so reaching out to a friend or talking about what you’re going through can help open the door for someone else to express how they’re really feeling.

Mental health knows no gender, sexuality, or social status, and we all deserve support.

If I think someone I’m playing with is acting differently or being a bit quiet, I simply ask 'how are you today?'. If they say ‘I’m fine’, I explain I’m not just making small talk, I really want to know how they are. I might say ‘are you sure you’re fine? you don’t seem yourself today. is something going on?’.

When you question someone’s response, it tends to catch them off-guard. In my experience, whether it’s in-person or online, people can sometimes be quite closed-off about their feelings. They don’t want to burden you, so they sometimes say ‘I’m fine’ when they’re not. It’s when you ask that second time they come to realise your question is genuine, you have time to listen, and you really do care.

The friendships that I’ve formed online work in both ways. It’s not uncommon for a friend to check how I am when I’m gaming. Throughout lockdown, I’ve had days where I’ve woken up feeling beside myself, but before I’ve even had a chance to voice that, someone has already spotted I’m having a bad day and has reached out. 

Helping others has meant I’ve unintentionally built up a support network online, who in turn, want to help me. I know my friends will always be there to support me, and they know if they need to chat, I’m always happy to log-on and listen.

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