All posts by Michelle Colder Carras

Games and suicide prevention – gamers care

The author’s character talking to another character in World of Warcraft (TM), Blizzard Entertainment

I’m in grantwriting mode again and redoing my literature reviews on the benefits of gaming for suicide prevention. There’s still little science that directly addresses it, but more and more interest from the gaming community. Now we have Twitch streams about mental health created by gamers who are also mental health experts (e.g., Psistreams). We have Clinical Roll, where a group of therapists who use Dungeons and Dragons in their clinical practice play and talk about D&D. We have the digital content store Humble Bundle providing a way for gamers to support charities like Mental Health America. And of course we have organizations like Stack Up, who recognized a need in their community and responded to it with a groundbreaking crisis intervention program, the Stack Up Overwatch Program (StOP), and Take This, a mental health organization working to decrease the stigma around mental health challenges in the gaming community.

Nowadays, connecting with people through digital platforms could become the most cost-effective way to show people you care and could help prevent suicide. That’s what I’m planning to look into with the project Leveraging the Power of Online Communities for Suicide Prevention, which will be led by digital health expert Alain Labrique at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes “caring letters” – short, supportive messages sent by postcard after and emergency room visit – as an effective and inexpensive way to prevent suicide. The concept was developed by psychiatrist Jerry Motto, a World War II veteran, who remembered how much letters from home lifted his spirits when he was deployed overseas.

One of the original caring letters, courtesy of CBS News

One of the first studies to show how this could be adapted for the Internet (Whiteside et al., 2014)  showed that who people had experienced suicidal ideation liked the idea of an intervention that was personalized, caring, and involved real people with personal examples.

Last year I tried (but failed) to get a small project funded that would bring together many nonprofit organizations and suicide researchers to discuss games and mental health. This year that will happen.  I invite any interested people or groups to join me. Not only can we support people who need those connections with like-minded others (like ourselves!), we can spread the word about the strength of community in gaming. My strengths are research and connecting people, but I lack streaming skills and equipment. If you can help with that, welcome on board!

I’ll publish more about this, including some data on how gamers feel about different ways they connect, in upcoming months. In the meantime, see our panel at PAX East, “We got your back: How gaming communities improve health” on March 1st, with Mat Bergendahl from PsiStreams & Stack Up and  Raffael Boccamazzo Kelli Dunlap, and Rachel Kowert from Take This.

References

1.  Whiteside U, Lungu A, Richards J, et al. Designing Messaging to Engage Patients in an Online Suicide Prevention Intervention: Survey Results From Patients With Current Suicidal Ideation. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2014;16(2):e42. doi:10.2196/jmir.3173