Callum Underwood has been giving the issue of mental health support in games a lot of thought, lately. Back in March, he wrote Mental Health in the Games Industry, a Medium post in which he recognizes that while many of us who work in the games industry deal with mental health issues, we often have a hard time opening up about it.
We all wear masks — some of us more than others. Someone I would class as a friend sat in a meeting with me this week. We chatted about business opportunities and planned for the future. We could just have easily been sat trying to figure out why we sometimes feel miserable, and how we can help each other, but it wasn’t the time or the place, so we put our #business masks on and got down to it. That’s life, and it’s something we had to do. It’s also a strong skill, and not something that everyone can do. If you can — good for you! If you can’t… maybe that’s better? Who knows. But I have a feeling there is a lot of desperation hiding under the surface of a lot of the conversations at places like GDC.
I do have a call to action here, I just wanted to give you some context for where I am coming from. I think we as an industry can be better about those of us who feel doubt, isolation, depression, anxiety … the list goes on. This is selfish — I want a place where I can discuss what’s going on in my life without needing to have the mask on.
Underwood followed up that powerful call to action by launching an invite-only Slack group to serve as a safe space for people working in the industry to talk openly about mental health in a more private setting.
Late in August, Underwood spoke at Devcom on the subject, and GamesIndustry.biz covered the talk. It was a great one.
One of the issues Underwood faced in speaking openly about these problems is a nagging sense of guilt at having them in the first place. “I’m a white, straight guy who has a good job. I’ve got a family. There’s no circumstantial reason for me to be depressed. I’m not poor, I haven’t been abused, and so on and so forth.”
However real they might be to the individual, though, Underwood argued that it is important to recognise that those feelings of guilt are misplaced. Mental health issues can afflict anyone, he said, regardless of race or background or personal wealth.
“If you’re depressed when generally everyone around you is happy and in the same circumstances, you don’t have to feel like it’s a bad thing – that’s just normal. It’s the same as being ill. If you don’t feel guilty when you’ve got a cold, why should you feel guilty when you have a panic attack?
Underwood also spoke about his fears about speaking about mental illness, concerns about stigma, and a lot of great ideas for improving mental health support in the industry.
Employers should be able to recognise the signs that someone has issues with mental health, and be as flexible as possible in their responses. Employees should feel able to take time to go to an appointment, to take their medication at work, and to work from home occasionally. “This is all stuff I’ve done in jobs in the past, and it’s all stuff I think we should expect from people in this industry,” Underwood said. “This is all okay, and it’s actually a real positive.
“I’d rather have someone who worked for me take a half day off, because they’re not going to do anything productive anyway, and then catch up next week. Don’t feel like you need to stick to the rules all the time. That’s not the kind of industry that we are.”
That just scratches the surface of what Underwood recommends, so head on over to GamesIndustry.biz to read on.