Mental Health 101
A Self-Help Guide written for (and by) Gamers
What IS Mental Health?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:
“a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
That’s a mouthful! Basically what that means is that your mental health is wherever you are on this ever-changing scale of personal fulfillment. Any one person can be anywhere on this scale from day to day – this week you can be on top of the world, fighting every challenge with a smile. And next week, you might face a new hurdle that you fall down at.
What is important, is what you do next.
When you face the day, particularly a challenge, how do you feel? What thoughts come to mind? How do you behave? What impact does it have on you for the rest of the day? Or the rest of the week?
Factors that impact this can be external (finances, culture and environment, work) and internal (hormones, past experiences, physical health problems, chemical imbalances etc).
It’s important to note, that the definition doesn’t actually mention illness at all. It says nothing about not having depression, or not being anxious, or not being on medication. You can flourish with mental health issues – it’s all about how you deal with them, whether you are coping, if you feel productive and part of a community.
Three Important Definitions
During this course, and over a lot of CheckPoint’s resources, we commonly discuss mental health issues, wellbeing and resilience. We sometimes use these interchangeably, and it can get a bit confusing (even for us!)
The truth is, there isn’t any universal agreement on what exactly these things mean. We like to think of it like this:
1. Mental health issues
Diagnosed problems with symptoms, such as clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. May bene.t (or require) professional treatment like psychotherapy or medication. Symptoms may come and go from day to day, whilst the overall diagnosis can be present for months or years.
How “fulfilled” you feel at any given time. This includes your emotional health, psychological health, and social health. Can vary quickly (even moment to moment!) depending on how well you cope with things.
The strength and ease with which you face challenges. Sometimes describes as a glass .lling with water – how easy it is to empty so you can stop it from over.owing? Your resilience is built up of your coping skills – how you look at situations, how well you control emotions, how you respond and whether you are able to ask for help, things like that.
We’ll use all of these terms in CheckPoint courses, so if you ever forget or aren’t sure, you can come back to this lesson at any time.
5 Things You Need To Know About Mental Health
1: Mental Health Issues are VERY COMMON!
Current statistics suggest that depending on where you are, between a third and a half of people have a mental health issue at some point in their life, and a quarter of people will experience symptoms THIS YEAR.
Unfortunately, only 1/3 people affected currently seek help for their mental health issues. This is due largely to stigma, lack of understanding, or simply not knowing what help is available.
2: Having a Mental Health Issue Doesn’t Make You CRAZY, SCARY or DANGEROUS.
This is a negative stereotype that has been commonly used by the media as a cheap plot device. The truth is, people with mental illness are 3x more likely to be a victim of crime and 5x more likely to be a victim of assault. If you have a mental health issue, you are just as human as everybody else – with your own strengths and vulnerabilities, skills, loves and goals. People can behave in good ways or bad ways and that usually has absolutely nothing to do with the presence or absence of mental illness.
3: You Won’t Immediately Get Put in an Asylum
Most treatments are done on an outpatient basis. That means that the person is at home, not in hospital, and they come to visit the doctor or other health professionals at appointments. This way, we can help folks to stay at home with their loved ones rather than in be staying in a psychiatric unit. In fact, 95% of people that would have been admitted in 1960s are treated at home now.
4: Help Exists – You Just Need to Know Where to Look
Sometimes it feels like there is simply no help out there, but things for mental health are getting better and better, and all you need to do is know where to look. Most countries have a number of services, nonprofit organisations (like us!), websites and other resources for people to get help for cheap/free.
5: You Won’t Immediately Get Put on Medication
For most people, the best option for managing their mental health issue is talking therapy. Depending on where you live, there might be a wait list or a cost involved, but there are even free electronic courses available now that might be e.ective! Instead of jumping into medication, generally the .rst thing we try to help should be some form of psychotherapy. There is evidence that for moderate to severe issues that a combination of talking and medication is the best option.
4 Types of Talking Therapy and 3 Tips to Make the Most of Them
Think casual mobile game.
This type of game has a short duration and does a lot of hand-holding – it walks you through the basics and doesn’t challenge too much. This is used in times of crisis – when everything feels like it is going wrong and you can’t cope. This type of therapy helps to support person through that rough patch, and reinforces their positive coping mechanisms. It is short term, and it doesn’t look to change how you cope, instead gives you a helping hand and boosts your own ability to get through.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Think puzzle platformer.
Early on this type of therapy teaches you the instructions – how to think about each level, or each session. As you get further in you have to use what you’ve learned to progress. It can be hard work but it’s also very rewarding. CBT helps you to learn how to handle specific situations and challenges in life, by adapting the way you think. With the therapist you work together to know how it is you think about certain situations, like, if you have a specific phobia of heights for example, thinking “I am definitely going to fall down and get hurt”. You then are able to challenge and change these thoughts, so in this example you could replace that with, “I am worried about falling, but it is very unlikely to happen,” or “I have never fallen before”. With CBT, your childhood and development is not really looked at in much detail – instead it is mainly focussed on “here and now”. It generally takes about 12-24 weeks, and after it’s all done you may need top-up sessions.
Long-term (Psychodynamic) Psychotherapy.
Think – MMORPG.
Long, expansive, and without one definitive end point. Lots of exploration, personal development. This intense type of therapy is a lot more comprehensive and analytical of you as a person. Your therapist acts as a guide, as you look at the past as it relates to present situations. A good example would be that every time you get into an argument with your partner, you get really mad and upset, because it feels deep down like you are having a fight with your mum or dad. With time, you learn to reflect on emotions rather than reenacting them. You essentially learn from past to avoid repeating it.
There are actually heaps of different types of therapy, some are really thoroughly practised and evidence based, others are newer and more experimental.
As a .eld we are constantly growing, changing and learning. Some of the other
types of therapy a professional might recommend include:
- ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)
- DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy)
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- 3 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Therapy
Keep an open mind.
With the types of therapy, not one size fits all. Therapy is as varied as games are, and you are varied too. If you’ve tried CBT and it didn’t work, that doesn’t mean nothing will ever work. All brains are wired differently, so maybe ACT would be the thing for you. It’s hard, takes time, and can be frustrating but keep at it – eventually you’ll get there.
Remember, a therapist is there to help you.
You wouldn’t carry on keeping your subscription if the game wasn’t any fun any more. If you feel the person is missing the point, let them know – any therapist who wants to help people will be grateful to be told they are barking up the wrong tree. Finding a good one can be a bit like a lock and a key. It can take some time.
Be prepared to work hard.
This is a journey of self-improvement that can change your life, but it won’t be a quick .x and it won’t happen overnight. You can’t defeat Sephiroth at level 15. You need to keep at it, keep attending appointments, do your homework if they set it, and make sure to try to have an open mind.
2 Types of Calming Exercises
A Bit About Feelings
Feelings are important for us in having a ful.lling life, functioning socially, and being part of a productive community. Love, happiness, excitement, trust – they help us to know we are secure, cared for and important to others.
They are also responsible for keeping us safe. The presence of fear and disgust in our lives are very important, allowing us to avoid dangers and help others to do the same.
If you haven’t watched Disney Pixar’s Inside Out – we would highly recommend it. It helps to explain how all of these emotions can work together, and how each of them is super important. Also it’s a really good movie.
When Should I Use These Exercises?
Having feelings is great! It makes us feel….well, everything!
However, emotions can easily .ood us and take over our minds. They can be triggered by a situation, a thought, something somebody says, or even by something as simple as a smell.
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it depends how aware you are of the feelings and how they impact your behaviour. For example, if you become anxious before a test and therefore study very hard to make sure you pass, that is an adaptive use of anxiety. However, if you become anxious before a test, and to try to forget about it you don’t study –that’s avoidance, which is a negative behaviour. On the other hand, if you get anxious and study way too hard, ignoring the importance of eating, sleeping and socialising, you’re also becoming a victim to your emotions. You might pass the test, you might not, but you have certainly put yourself at risk of physical and mental health issues.
Other emotions that commonly take over are things like anger, jealousy, panic. They are primitive emotions that come from very deep inside the brain, and can be hard to recognise or control. But they can make us see things differently to how they are really happening. They can make us truly believe that our feelings are justified when they might not be. And they can cause us to behave in ways that are damaging in the long run.
Here are some examples:
Alison works as a teacher. Her colleague is off sick and so she is asked to cover their class. The kids are really poorly behaved and she becomes stressed out. She begins to think her colleague is lazy and faking it. When the colleague returns, she is angry at them for causing her the extra work and hassle. She avoids them and is dismissive in the sta. room. Her boss noted this and Alison received a poor report at her next review. In this situation, it is reasonable that Alison felt increased levels of stress, and understandable that she felt anger. However, that anger was inappropriate. She doesn’t know what is going on in her colleague’s life, and it is an expected duty in her profession to cover classes. The way she behaved toward her colleague was unjustified and led to conflict in the workplace – making it difficult for others, and also affecting her own reputation.
Brian has been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for two years. His partner goes abroad for work and is gone for a few days. During that time Brian begins to worry that his partner will be unfaithful, though there has never been any evidence of this in the past. Brian starts looking at where his partner has checked in on Facebook and sees they are spending a lot of time with another man. Brian feels jealousy and fear. When his partner returns, Brian is feeling hurt, so when his partner explains how fun the trip was, Brian starts an argument about something unrelated.
Brian is obviously feeling insecure in his relationship and worried that his partner might leave for someone else. This is very common and not at all a problem – in itself. However, the way that Brian deals with it is damaging to the relationship because it implies there is not a mutual trust, or even that the other person was cheating. Checking in on his partner’s activity is indulging in feelings of worry, helping them to grow and become reinforced. Ultimately it results in a confrontation that is inappropriate (and abusive to his partner).
Charlie is at a party. A few extra people that Charlie hasn’t met before arrive, and the room becomes very crowded. Charlie begins feeling hot and looks for the exit but there are many people in the way. Charlie feels like if they don’t get outside, they might have heatstroke and die. They know that this isn’t very sensible but they can’t help thinking about all the different reasons they might die at that moment. Their heart starts racing and they breathe quickly, their lips start to tingle and they feel dizzy. Convinced they are having a heart attack, Charlie runs out of the house without saying goodbye. Feeling very embarrassed, Charlie avoids going to parties after that. Eventually Charlie struggles to leave the house because they are so scared of this happening again.
Charlie has had a panic attack as a result of social anxiety. This is generated by feelings of fear and panic over small sensations in the body leading to something dangerous (or deadly). Lots of people have panic attacks, which come on suddenly for various reasons. They can be very, very scary. Afterwards, it is common to feel worried about getting them again. In Charlie’s case, this has led to avoidance which eventually stops them from socialising or functioning in the community.
Taking Back The Control
What could Alison, Brian and Charlie have done differently?
Having those feelings of anger, jealousy and panic in the first place was natural and understandable. However, in each case they let the feeling take over, and it affected the way they behaved, which caused negative outcomes. If they had made an effort to be grounded and reflected on the situation, they could have seen it more objectively, which would have helped those feelings to go away.
If you do this enough, it becomes a lot more easy and instinctive. Eventually you can break that feedback cycle of negative emotions causing negative emotions, and they don’t even come in the first place!
Grounding is useful when your feelings have taken you someplace else. When they are overwhelming, distressing or rage-inducing. When you can’t see clarity any more, and everything becomes just too much . It’s an exceptionally powerful thing to be able to break out of that cycle and come back to the real world – and super important if you are someone who experiences very big emotions.
These exercises are designed to focus your mind on a very specific thing, so that its timer on the strong emotions will run out. This is instead of dwelling and ruminating which feeds the flame of anger or despair and only makes them stronger.
The 54321 Game
- Name 5 things you can see in the room with you.
- Name 4 things you can feel right now, such as your foot inside your sock, a breeze on yourface, etc.
- Name 3 things you can hear right now.
- Name 2 things you can smell right now (or, 2 things you like the smell of).
- Name 1 good thing about yourself.
Katniss Everdeen does this in The Hunger Games (books and movies. It’s a good technique for trauma and distress.
Begin by asking yourself very simple questions about exactly who and where you are right at this moment, and say the answers aloud (or aloud in your mind as if telling a story. For example,
“My name is Robin Smith.”
“I am 20 years old. I live in London.”
“I am a student at School University. I am studying English Literature.”
“I am currently on the bus. I am going home.”
“It is a Tuesday, in April. The season is Spring.”
Mindfulness is an ancient practice which has a lot of evidence for benefit in modern life. It also feels great to do. Here’s just some of the things that clinical studies have shown mindfulness can do:
- Reduces anxiety
- Reduces Stress
- Improves focus
- Without judgement
- Improves emotional regulation
- Improves relationship satisfaction
- Improves memory
The pillars of mindfulness is it is:
- In the present
- On purpose
- Without judgement
You can be anywhere and it can take as many (or as few! minutes as you need it to – as long as you achieve all of the above. You do not need to be doing yoga in a temple. It is all about you –accepting yourself, whatever that is, however you feel, and letting it be.
We love the Stop, Breathe and Think app. You can try some of their meditations right now, from their awesome YouTube channel!
1 Important Thing To Always Remember
This site is designed to provide self-help advice and mental health information to gamers. But, sometimes, self help isn’t enough – and that’s okay. Please, remember above all else, you are loved, valuable andyou deserve to feel good. If you ever feel like things are too much, you are not alone. And there is always someone to listen.
Please bookmark this page: CheckPoint’s Global Mental Health Directory. You can use it to find Emergency numbers, help lines, websites with forums, information and chat facilities, and much, much more. Each geographic section is divided up by what it is you might need. And if there’s anything missing – please let us know.