Welcome to a new Guest column here on Master of Magics. Today, Chase Carroll takes us through a topic that has an impact on each of us – our mental health. If you appreciated this piece, please reach out to Chase on Twitter @ManaCurves to let her know. – Kristen
We all need to take care of our mental health. Regardless of our personal feelings on the matter, each and every one of us has been affected by our mental health in one way or another. While Magic can be a form of self-care for many of us – a way to relax, unwind, or have fun with friends – it can also be a form of stress for both us and other players. From the mental exhaustion it takes to win a long game of EDH to constant grinding on the tournament circuit, we have all experienced feelings of anxiety and stress when playing our beloved game. However, for many of us, these feelings can be exacerbated by mental illness. The first thing I’d like to say is that this is not something to be ashamed of. Mental illness is normal, just as normal as breaking your leg or catching a cold. Despite the positive advances in health care and the willingness of many communities to be more open (thanks to the more open society we are building), the stigma around mental health and mental illness is still great today, even in the Magic community. It is my hope that by opening dialogue about mental illness, we can create greater awareness about mental health within the Magic community.
I’ve often heard people say mental illness is “all in your head”, “made up”, or “not that common”. However, 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness in the US (NAMI 2015). That is around 43.8 million people – 18.5% of the population of the US. This high number of individuals living with mental illness coincides with the Magic ommunity. Mental health and mental illness can affect people in different ways, depending on many different factors. Some symptoms can be mild, while others still can be chronic. These symptoms can impact everyday interactions, such as a visit to a local game store, but also how someone reacts to crowds at tournaments. It is important for us to understand that while we cannot magically take away our friend’s symptoms, we can help welcome our friends through the acts of dialogue and inclusivity.
Local game stores (LGS’) are loved by the community because they are such open and welcoming places for people who often times feel like outcasts or the underdog – we’ve all been there, and our friends are our families. When suffering from a mental illness, though, an LGS might seem like a terrifying place to go! To some, the audio levels might feel deafening, and others might see it as a crowded space slowly closing in. It could even be a triggering experience for someone to go to an LGS – people are complicated, and we all have things that can overwhelm us.
As a community we must do our part to create a comforting and inclusive environment for individuals with mental illness. That means stopping the usage of insensitive and harmful language (i.e. r*tard*d, psycho, “you’re so OCD”, “you r*ped me with your deck”, etc.). Harmful language can be extremely triggering to individuals who are sexual assault survivors, or individuals with PTSD, and regardless can be straight up incredibly offensive.
One positive way we can nurture an LGS into a more inclusive environment is to designate it a safe space. Safe spaces are places where like-minded people who do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or hate speech gather, with a focus on individuals being able to speak about their experiences – in this case, mental illness – free of judgment or stigma. Having your LGS become a safe space is a great way to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Cutting down on harmful language and opening up a dialogue can drastically increase one’s comfort level and make reporting harmful language or harassment easier and less stressful. If you know someone who suffers from a mental illness, simply talking about it can be helpful; one of the most impactful things you can say is “I understand that I don’t understand. But I want to. How can I help?”. Talking about mental health and mental illness can eliminate the stigma and normalize it. It is my hope that with this column I can do that. If just one person carries the torch, a brighter, warmer future awaits.
Mental health and mental illness are nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it something we should ignore. As someone who is currently studying mental health, I am learning that it is imperative to continue to create an open dialogue about these stigmatized topics. The Magic: the Gathering community is such an open and welcoming place and I feel that if we continue this dialogue on mental health then we can keep on growing for a long time still.