One thing I’ve noticed over my years of being online, and my years of gaming, its that a lot of people suffer in silence from mental illness. It’s often said that many people, when online, are more willing and able to become the person they wish they could be. They become the person they hide during their day to day life.
Many people become more open about their real feelings and thoughts and desires, confronting issues in an honest and earnest manner, and because of this, a lot of people with mental illness ranging from clinical depression to more serious psychological disorders have felt comfortable enough to confide in support groups and be more honest with friends they don’t know in ‘real life’.
However, these online retreats also act as a retreat to people who are less than kind. They become a bully or a troll. People who find out about people’s weaknesses and kick them when they’re at their most prone, in precisely the way that they know will hurt most. The more sensitive the subject, the more hurt their victim, the more powerful they feel. This is why many times facebook pages and in game funerals are griefed – these angry, insensitive people are looking for those at their most vulnerable just to rub salt in the wound.
This makes admitting to having a form of mental illness daunting, even in a more private and comfortable setting where the person is surrounded by pleasant, empathetic people. The fact that certain mental illnesses stop people from reaching out to those who can help them is also a huge hindrance, a barrier to getting help that individuals need.
Some are too poor or lack adequate health care to seek professional help and because of the huge stigma that lingers about the mentally ill, they rely on the support of their online friends as most people with psychological problems fear telling people in their day to day life because they worry about their reactions or what their family and friends and employers will think of them. They often become socially isolated from others. Anxiety disorders can cause people to withdraw from real life social gatherings and so online communities become their sole retreat.
Many sufferers of depression and anxiety are self conscious to admit their issues to others because of the negative reactions they’ve received from friends, family and employers in the real world. It’s not unheard of for people who have depression and anxiety disorders to be fired from their job rather than be supported through their time of need. Since depression and anxiety can lower average work quality or quantity, employers are sometimes capable of firing those that aren’t operating up to their standards without breaking employee protection laws. Even if someone works for an employer with above average worker rights and an appropriate Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), they may still hesitate to tell their employer for fear of being seen as weak.
Though in past decades the social stigma of mental disorders has lessened, and one in five people will, at some point, suffer from some type of mental illness, there still isn’t enough empathy and understanding. They’re relying on our support and guidance, to nudge them towards getting the help they need and deserve.
Chances are you will or you have met someone who will exhibit the typical behaviour of someone suffering depression or anxiety, which is the most common mental disorders that I’ve run into online. People who talk about being constantly sad, being stressed, not being good enough, not ‘feeling like themselves lately’, having troubles at work or having thoughts of self injury or death talk (such as saying they don’t know why they bother living any more, than no one would miss them, etc.) It’s better to take such comments seriously and urge them to seek help or, if the case seems severe, contact someone for them.
Blizzard and most other MMOs have trained staff in suicide watch and can intervene on your behalf if someone speaks of killing themselves.