GFD is a large community of video game players who know what it’s like to cope with depression and other mental health issues. Its 1,500 members congregate on Discord, while about 10,000 subscribers follow the group on Reddit, Steam and other social networks. They share two common goals: to create a safe and supportive environment for people dealing with mental health issues, and to be more connected and less alone.
Members use those channels to look for support, reach out to people who are struggling, and to have some fun. Most of the time, it’s a great group of people to play online games with, a clan of like-minded players who understand each others’ struggles. When life gets difficult, it can be more — a place to open up and be heard.
For Dylan Dzedzy, who streams as 0ptimysticgamer and writes about games and mental health, GFD began as a place to lurk while he dealt with his own issues. Recently, he’s taken a more active part in the GFD community and Discord server, where he acts as a Listener.
“A Listener, although not a professional mental health worker, acts as a life coach and guide in helping our members with the problems that come from mental illness,” he explained to us over email. “We use a combination of various resources on mental health, teaching coping mechanisms, and our own personal experiences to help our members seeking support. We work in one-on-ones with members in chats while also running open support discussions for the greater community.”
It’s a role GFD members take seriously, and moderators and administrators work hard to protect Listeners and other members from its potential pitfalls. Several server rules are in place specifically to keep everyone involved safe, particularly Rule 1:
We are not professionals. We can only give support and guidance. Please check out our section on useful links that may help you when seeking professional help. If you feel you are at risk, please see the list of support helpline numbers or head over to our friends at /r/SuicideWatch.
Rule 2 bans bullying or discrimination of any kind, including racism, sexism, and homophobia. As much as possible, GFD’s official channels are kept safe for everyone. The Discord server is kept safe for work as well, in an effort to protect younger members of the community.
In fact, while GFD is primarily for gamers, it welcomes everyone and discussion of any safe-for-work topic. The GFD Discord server includes channels for creativity, media, pen and paper games, and sexual orientation and gender identity, to name a few. Members hold movie nights, open mic nights, run tabletop games, and watch anime together — though they also play a lot of games.
Other rules ask users to respect each other’s boundaries, avoid diagnosing other members or suggesting specific treatments, and remember that mods and Listeners are also people who deal with or have dealt with mental illness. Mods and Listeners are under strict instructions to direct users to another member of the team if they’re not able to help for any reason, personal or practical. These are important clauses for a team of volunteers and non-professionals, where burnout is a serious risk.
Regular members are advised to avoid offering that same level of direct support to each other unless they’re fully prepared — both emotionally, and with resources they can offer if needed. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be there for each other, but that it may be better to offer casual support, commiseration or a game invite, not a deep heart-to-heart conversation.
Those rules don’t just keep the community afloat, Dzedzy believes, they also give its members something to rely on.
“What I found at GFD is something that still runs true. What GFD does best is offer a community based around structure. Most communities I was in that involved gaming and depression were just groups of people who got together and gamed. There were no real goals set up and it was more like just hopping into a chat room or online multiplayer match. Yeah, we were all there for the same reason, but there wasn’t any actual progress being made by people in these groups.”
Because GFD has structure and clear goals set out, he says, its members have more opportunities to grow and thrive. And because its staff works so tirelessly to provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere, members feel like the staff is reliable and can be depended upon.
Dzedzy’s efforts with GFD extend beyond Discord and Reddit. Along with his role as a Listener, he also works as an Assistant Content Moderator for the community. He helps moderate GFD’s streaming community, helps develop video content, and maintains a website for members’ creative work.
With it, he explains, “We can uplift our members to be part of something greater while also showing the world that despite depression and mental illness people can still create wonderful things.”
Gamers Fighting Depression has a motto: Don’t Wander the Darkness Alone. Members support each other as Listeners, as mods or as fellow gamers who know what it’s like to struggle with mental health issues. They aren’t there to fix each other, but they are there to help.
That commitment has its rewards. For Dzedzy, one of those rewards is knowing he’s made a difference in others’ lives. He recalls one member who was in a “horrendous” life situation, dealing with depression and suicidality. “Anyone in their situation would be hard pressed to find strength. But after working closely with them over the course of a few months they came in to send me a personal message to say that my direct intervention, as well as the greater workings of GFD, kept them fighting. Now, they are no longer suicidal and actively working to better their situation as a whole.”
We don’t all have the support of the people in our lives, and that’s hard. When we feel alone, groups like GFD can remind us that we’re surrounded by others who understand our struggles. That can make all the difference in the world.
Update: Post originally noted GFD’s 10,000 subscribers without clarifying that the core group has 1,500 members.